SoxC transcription factors shape the epigenetic landscape to establish competence for sensory differentiation in the mammalian organ of CortiXizi Wang, Juan Llamas, Talon Trecek, Tuo Shi, Litao Tao, Welly Makmura, J. Gage Crump, Neil Segil, Ksenia Gnedeva
The auditory organ of Corti is comprised of only two major cell types—the mechanosensory hair cells and their associated supporting cells—both specified from a single pool of prosensory progenitors in the cochlear duct. Here, we show that competence to respond to Atoh1, a transcriptional master regulator necessary and sufficient for induction of mechanosensory hair cells, is established in the prosensory progenitors between E12.0 and 13.5. The transition to the competent state is rapid and is associated with extensive remodeling of the epigenetic landscape controlled by the SoxC group of transcription factors. Conditional loss of Sox4 and Sox11 —the two homologous family members transiently expressed in the inner ear at the time of competence establishment—blocks the ability of prosensory progenitors to differentiate as hair cells. Mechanistically, we show that Sox4 binds to and establishes accessibility of early sensory lineage–specific regulatory elements, including ones associated with Atoh1 and its direct downstream targets. Consistent with these observations, overexpression of Sox4 or Sox11 prior to developmental establishment of competence precociously induces hair cell differentiation in the cochlear progenitors. Further, reintroducing Sox4 or Sox11 expression restores the ability of postnatal supporting cells to differentiate as hair cells in vitro and in vivo. Our findings demonstrate the pivotal role of SoxC family members as agents of epigenetic and transcriptional changes necessary for establishing competence for sensory receptor differentiation in the inner ear.