Auditory function is dependent on the formation of specific innervation patterns between mechanosensory hair cells (HCs) and afferent spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs). In particular, type I SGNs must precisely connect with inner HCs (IHCs) while avoiding connections with nearby outer HCs (OHCs). The factors that mediate these patterning events are largely unknown. Using sparse-labeling and time-lapse imaging, we visualized for the first time the behaviors of developing SGNs including active retraction of processes from OHCs, suggesting that some type I SGNs contact OHCs before forming synapses with IHCs. In addition, we demonstrate that expression of Semaphorin-3F in the OHC region inhibits type I SGN process extension by activating Neuropilin-2 receptors expressed on SGNs. These results suggest a model in which cochlear innervation patterns by type I SGNs are determined, at least in part, through a Semaphorin-3F-mediated inhibitory signal that impedes processes from extending beyond the IHC region.
Keywords: Neuropilin; Semaphorin; auditory; axon guidance; cochlea; developmental biology; mouse; neuroscience; spiral ganglion neurons; stem cells.