Background: In vertebrates, the inner ear is comprised of the cochlea and vestibular system, which develop from the otic vesicle. This process is regulated via inductive interactions from surrounding tissues. Tbx1, the gene responsible for velo-cardio-facial syndrome/DiGeorge syndrome in humans, is required for ear development in mice. Tbx1 is expressed in the otic epithelium and adjacent periotic mesenchyme (POM), and both of these domains are required for inner ear formation. To study the function of Tbx1 in the POM, we have conditionally inactivated Tbx1 in the mesoderm while keeping expression in the otic vesicle intact.
Results: Conditional mutants (TCre-KO) displayed malformed inner ears, including a hypoplastic otic vesicle and a severely shortened cochlear duct, indicating that Tbx1 expression in the POM is necessary for proper inner ear formation. Expression of the mesenchyme marker Brn4 was also lost in the TCre-KO. Brn4-;Tbx1+/-embryos displayed defects in growth of the distal cochlea. To identify a potential signal from the POM to the otic epithelium, expression of retinoic acid (RA) catabolizing genes was examined in both mutants. Cyp26a1 expression was altered in the TCre-KO, while Cyp26c1 showed reduced expression in both TCre-KO and Brn4-;Tbx1+/- embryos.
Conclusion: These results indicate that Tbx1 expression in the POM regulates cochlear outgrowth potentially via control of local retinoic acid activity.