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Stereocilia Morphogenesis and Maintenance is dependent on the Dynamics of Actin Cytoskeletal Proteins
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Age-related hearing loss is an acute health problem affecting people worldwide, often arising due to defects in the proper functioning of sensory hair cells in the inner ear. The apical surface of sensory hair cells contains actin-based protrusions known as stereocilia, which detect sound and head movements. Since hair cells are not regenerated in mammals, it is important to maintain the functioning of stereocilia for the life of an organism to maintain hearing ability. The actin filaments within a stereocilium are extensively crosslinked by various actin crosslinking proteins, which are important for stereocilia development and maintenance. Multiple studies have shown that the stereocilia actin core is exceptionally stable whereas actin is dynamic only at the tips of stereocilia. However, whether the actin crosslinking proteins, which are nearly as abundant as actin itself, are similarly stable or can freely move in and out of the core remains unknown. Loss or mutation of crosslinkers like plastin-1, fascin-2, and XIRP2 causes progressive hearing loss along with stereocilia degeneration while loss of espin prevents stereocilia from even developing properly. Do these phenotypes stem from an unstable stereocilia core? Does crosslinking confer stability to the core? To address these questions, we generated novel transgenic reporter lines to monitor the dynamics of actin in mice carrying fascin-2R109H mutation and espin null mice and also to study the dynamics of actin crosslinkers, in vivo and ex-vivo. We established that actin crosslinkers readily exchange within the highly stable F-actin structure of the stereocilia core. In addition, we determined that stereocilia degeneration in mice carrying fascin-2R109H mutation and espin null mice could possibly occur due to a less stable actin core. These studies suggest that dynamic crosslinks stabilize the core to maintain proper stereocilia functioning. Future work warrants understanding the reason behind the importance of dynamic crosslinks within a stable stereocilia core. Actin stability not only depends on actin crosslinkers, but also on actin filament composition as evident from distinct stereocilia degeneration and progressive hearing loss patterns in hair-cell specific knockout of actin isoforms. Although beta- and gamma- actin polypeptide sequences differ by only 14 four amino acids, whether the latter determine the unique function of each cytoplasmic actin isoform was previously unknown. Here we determined that these four critical amino acids determine the unique functional importance of beta-actin isoform in sensory hair cells. Taken together, our study demonstrates that actin cytoskeletal proteins are important for the morphogenesis and
maintenance of stereocilia.