The generation of the mechanosensory elements of the inner ear during development proceeds in a precise temporal and spatial pattern. First, neurosensory precursors form sensory neurons. Then, prosensory patches emerge and give rise to hair and supporting cells. Hair cells are innervated by cochleovestibular neurons that convey sound and balance information to the brain. SOX2 is an HMG transcription factor characteristic of the stem-cell genetic network responsible for progenitor self-renewal and commitment, and its loss of function generates defects in ear sensory epithelia. The present study shows that SOX2 protein is expressed in a spatially and temporally restricted manner throughout development of the chick inner ear. SOX2 is first expressed in the neurogenic region that gives rise to sensory neurons. SOX2 is then restricted to the prosensory patches in E4 and E5 embryos, as revealed by double and parallel labelling with SOX2 and Tuj1, MyoVIIa, or Islet1. Proliferating cell nuclear antigen labelling showed that SOX2 is expressed in proliferating cells during those stages. By E5, SOX2 is also expressed in the Schwann cells of the cochleovestibular ganglion, but not in the otic neurons. At E8 and E17, beyond stages of sensory cell specification, SOX2 is transiently expressed in hair cells, but its level remains high in supporting cells. SOX3 is concomitantly expressed with SOX2 in the neurogenic domain of the otic cup, but not in prosensory patches. Our data are consistent with a role for SOX2 in specifying a population of otic progenitors committed to a neural fate, giving rise to neurons and hair cells.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.