Atoh1 encodes a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor required for the development of the inner ear sensory epithelia, the dorsal spinal cord, brainstem, cerebellum, and intestinal secretory cells. In this study, to create a genetic tool for the research on gene function in the ear sensory organs, we generated an Atoh1-Cre knock-in mouse line by replacing the entire Atoh1 coding sequences with the Cre coding sequences. Atoh1(Cre/+) mice were viable, fertile, and displayed no visible defects whereas the Atoh1(Cre/Cre) mice died perinatally. The spatiotemporal activities of Cre recombinase were examined by crossing Atoh1-Cre mice with the R26R-lacZ conditional reporter mice. Atoh1-Cre activities were detected in the developing inner ear, the hindbrain, the spinal cord, and the intestine. In the inner ear, Atoh1-Cre activities were confined to the sensory organs in which lacZ expression is detected in nearly all of the hair cells and in many supporting cells. Thus, Atoh1-Cre mouse line serves as a useful tool for the functional study of genes in the inner ear. In addition, our results demonstrate that Atoh1 is expressed in the common progenitors destined for both hair and supporting cells.
2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.