Vestibular disorders affect as many as 35% of adults past age 40. Studies of the vestibular inner ear have yielded important insights into how we process and compensate for head motion including the existence of parallel channels of information in the afferent nerve. In macular organs, for example, two populations of hair cells adopt opposite planar orientations of their hair bundles and thus opposite responses to head movements. This highly conserved bidirectional organization was first described in neuromasts, the lateral line organs sensing water movements in fish, but the genetic program implementing this reversal during development is only starting to be deciphered. Consequently, ablation studies to reveal the importance of reversal for vestibular function have not been possible until recently. Here we propose to address this question by investigating the consequences of inactivating an orphan G protein coupled receptor (GPCRx), implicated by our preliminary data in orientation reversal in mouse hair cell epithelia. Based on our preliminary data, we suggest that mouse GPCRx functions downstream of the transcription factor EMX2 and upstream of the heterotrimeric G protein G?i to reverse a ground state of polarity established by planar cell polarity proteins. We will test this hypothesis and also use the GPCRx mutant as an animal model to pinpoint how polarity reversal shapes macular organ responses and downstream effects on vestibular behaviors. To reach these goals, we will: 1) Use genetics to determine how GPCRx instructs reversal at the molecular level, solving its epistatic relationship to EMX2, G?i and planar cell polarity proteins in mice, and use zebrafish to test whether GPCRx-G?i is a conserved effector pathway for reversal. 2) Use molecular markers, electrophysiology and calcium imaging to resolve hair cell maturation and function in absence of polarity reversal. 3) Determine how polarity reversal affects afferents' organization and function, with afferent recordings, as well as overall vestibular function using behavioral tests. Our coherent body of preliminary evidence ensures the feasibility and the high interest of the project, and our focus on a virtually unstudied receptor protein guarantees innovation. The multi-PI team is ideally suited to address complementary questions in both the mouse and zebrafish acoustico-lateralis systems. We anticipate that this collaborative effort will be decisive towards solving the mechanism of hair cell orientation reversal, its conservation across vertebrates and its significance for mammalian vestibular physiology. Thorough understanding of polarity reversal will help interpret and design treatments for vestibular dysfunctions.

Public Health Relevance

/PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE While we are not conscious of this sister sense to hearing, the vestibular sense maintains balance and controls eye movements during head motions, with dysfunction resulting in incapacitating dizziness and loss of stable vision. This project proposes to elucidate the role of a well-known but poorly understood anatomical feature, the opposing orientation of two populations of sensory cells in the vestibular inner ear organs that sense gravity and linear acceleration. Accomplishment of the research proposed will help the interpretation and design of treatments for dizziness of vestibular origin.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Auditory System Study Section (AUD)
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Freeman, Nancy
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Jackson Laboratory
Bar Harbor
United States
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