Transcriptomic characterization of dying hair cells in the avian cochlea

Cell Rep. 2021 Mar 23;34(12):108902. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.108902.


Sensory hair cells are prone to apoptosis caused by various drugs including aminoglycoside antibiotics. In mammals, this vulnerability results in permanent hearing loss because lost hair cells are not regenerated. Conversely, hair cells regenerate in birds, making the avian inner ear an exquisite model for studying ototoxicity and regeneration. Here, we use single-cell RNA sequencing and trajectory analysis on control and dying hair cells after aminoglycoside treatment. Interestingly, the two major subtypes of avian cochlear hair cells, tall and short hair cells, respond differently. Dying short hair cells show a noticeable transient upregulation of many more genes than tall hair cells. The most prominent gene group identified is associated with potassium ion conductances, suggesting distinct physiological differences. Moreover, the dynamic characterization of >15,000 genes expressed in tall and short avian hair cells during their apoptotic demise comprises a resource for further investigations toward mammalian hair cell protection and hair cell regeneration.

Keywords: Auditory periphery; aminoglycoside; apoptosis; hearing; inner ear; ototoxicity; scRNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminoglycosides / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Death / genetics
  • Chickens / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / drug effects
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / pathology*
  • Semicircular Canals / drug effects
  • Semicircular Canals / metabolism
  • Sisomicin / administration & dosage
  • Sisomicin / pharmacology
  • Time Factors
  • Transcriptome / drug effects
  • Transcriptome / genetics*


  • Aminoglycosides
  • Sisomicin