From its origin as a single ectodermal patch, the inner ear becomes a labyrinth of chambers housing six to eight sensory organs. Along the way, specific cell fates are realized. The secrets underlying these cell fate specifications are beginning to be revealed through the application of several molecular-genetic approaches. Recent papers describing such approaches have included gene expression studies in the early otic epithelium and inner ear sensory epithelia. large-scale screens of zebrafish mutants to identify ear defects, and targeted gene perturbations of neurotrophins. of their receptors or of the Brn-3.1 transcription factor in mice.