Indexed on: 22 Jul '14Published on: 22 Jul '14Published in: Congenital Anomalies
The membranous labyrinth of the inner ear is a highly complex organ that detects sound and balance. Developmental defects in the inner ear cause congenital hearing loss and balance disorders. The membranous labyrinth consists of three semicircular ducts, the utricle, saccule, and endolymphatic ducts, and the cochlear duct. These complex structures develop from the simple otic placode, which is established in the cranial ectoderm adjacent to the neural crest at the level of the hindbrain at the early neurula stage. During development, the otic placode invaginates to form the otic vesicle, which subsequently gives rise to neurons for the vestibulocochlear ganglion, the non-sensory and sensory epithelia of the membranous labyrinth that includes three ampullary crests, two maculae, and the organ of Corti. Combined paracrine and autocrine signals including fibroblast growth factor, Wnt, retinoic acid, hedgehog, and bone morphogenetic protein regulate fate determination, axis formation, and morphogenesis in the developing inner ear. Juxtacrine signals mediated by Notch pathways play a role in establishing the sensory epithelium, which consists of mechanosensory hair cells and supporting cells. The highly differentiated organ of Corti, which consists of uniformly oriented inner/outer hair cells and specific supporting cells, develops during fetal development. Developmental alterations/arrest causes congenital malformations in the inner ear in a spatiotemporal-restricted manner. A clearer understanding of the mechanisms underlying inner ear development is important not only for the management of patients with congenital inner ear malformations, but also for the development of regenerative therapy for impaired function.