The intermediate filament glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) is a classic marker for several types of glial cells, including astrocytes and nonmyelinating Schwann cells. The pattern of expression of GFAP in the postnatal murine inner ear, from postnatal day 3 (P3) to P38, was studied by anti-GFAP immunostaining in wild-type mice as well as in two lines of transgenic mice expressing either beta-galactosidase (LacZ) or green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of the GFAP promoter. Analysis of protein and promoter activity shows that several classes of supporting cells in the sensory epithelia, as well as Schwann cells and satellite cells express GFAP. Early after birth, all cochlear supporting cells express GFAP, in a gradient decreasing in intensity from base to apex. After P15, GFAP expression in the organ of Corti is mostly restricted to supporting cells of the inner hair cell area (i.e., inner border and inner phalangeal cells) and outer hair cell area (i.e., Deiters' cells). A small population of limbic cells also showed expression in a base-to-apex gradient. In the vestibular organs, high expression was detected in supporting cells in extrastriolar regions of the utricular macula and in the canal ampullae, with weaker staining in the saccular macula. These results suggest that supporting cells of the inner ear have important similarities to glial cells and may play roles similar to those of astrocytes or Schwann cells in supporting the normal development and maintenance of neurons and sensory cells of the inner ear.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.