Rapid cell-cycle reentry and cell death after acute inactivation of the retinoblastoma gene product in postnatal cochlear hair cells
Unlike lower vertebrates, mammals are unable to replace damaged mechanosensory hair cells (HCs) in the cochlea. Recently, ablation of the retinoblastoma protein (Rb) in undifferentiated mouse HC precursors was shown to cause cochlear HC proliferation and the generation of new HCs, raising the hope that inactivation of Rb in postmitotic HCs could trigger cell division and regenerate functional HCs postnatally. Here, we acutely inactivated Rb in nearly all cochlear HCs of newborn mice, using a newly developed HC-specific inducible Cre mouse line. Beginning 48 h after Rb deletion, ≈40% of HCs were in the S and M phases of the cell cycle, demonstrating an overriding role for Rb in maintaining the quiescent state of postnatal HCs. Unlike Rb-null HC precursors, such HCs failed to undergo cell division and died rapidly. HC clusters were restricted to the less differentiated cochlear regions, consistent with differentiation-dependent roles of Rb. Moreover, outer HCs expressed the maturation marker prestin, suggesting an embryonic time window for Rb-dependent HC specification. We conclude that Rb plays essential and age-dependent roles during HC proliferation and differentiation, and, in contrast to previous hypotheses, cell death after forced cell-cycle reentry presents a major challenge for mammalian HC regeneration from residual postnatal HCs.