Front. Cell. Neurosci., 29 March 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2021.660748
Transcription Factor Reprogramming in the Inner Ear: Turning on Cell Fate Switches to Regenerate Sensory Hair Cells
Non-mammalian vertebrates can restore their auditory and vestibular hair cells naturally by triggering the regeneration of adjacent supporting cells. The transcription factor ATOH1 is a key regulator of hair cell development and regeneration in the inner ear. Following the death of hair cells, supporting cells upregulate ATOH1 and give rise to new hair cells. However, in the mature mammalian cochlea, such natural regeneration of hair cells is largely absent. Transcription factor reprogramming has been used in many tissues to convert one cell type into another, with the long-term hope of achieving tissue regeneration. Reprogramming transcription factors work by altering the transcriptomic and epigenetic landscapes in a target cell, resulting in a fate change to the desired cell type. Several studies have shown that ATOH1 is capable of reprogramming cochlear non-sensory tissue into cells resembling hair cells in young animals. However, the reprogramming ability of ATOH1 is lost with age, implying that the potency of individual hair cell-specific transcription factors may be reduced or lost over time by mechanisms that are still not clear. To circumvent this, combinations of key hair cell transcription factors have been used to promote hair cell regeneration in older animals. In this review, we summarize recent findings that have identified and studied these reprogramming factor combinations for hair cell regeneration. Finally, we discuss the important questions that emerge from these findings, particularly the feasibility of therapeutic strategies using reprogramming factors to restore human hearing in the future.