Inner ear induction, like induction of other tissues examined in recent years, is likely to be comprised of several stages. The process begins during gastrulation when the ectoderm is competent to respond to induction. It appears that a signal from the endomesoderm underlying the otic area during gastrulation initiates induction complemented by a signal from presumptive neural tissue. By the neural plate stage, a region of ectoderm outside the neural plate is "biased" toward ear formation; this process may be part of a more general "placodal" bias shared by several sensory tissues. Induction continues during neurulation when a signal from neural tissue (possibly augmented by mesoderm underlying the otic area) results in ectoderm committed to otic vesicle formation at the time of neural tube closure. Studies on several gene families implicate them in the ear determination process. Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) family members are clearly involved in induction: FGFs are appropriately expressed for such a role, and have been shown to be essential for inner ear development. FGFs also have inductive activity, although it is not clear if they are sufficient for ear induction. Activation of transcription factors in the otic ectoderm, for example, by Pax gene family members, provides evidence for important changes in the responding ectoderm beginning during gastrulation and continuing through specification at the end of neurulation, although few functional tests have defined the role of these genes in determination. The challenge remains to merge embryologic data with gene function studies to develop a clear model for the molecular basis of inner ear induction.
Copyright 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.