Germline mutations in Mir96, one of three co-expressed polycistronic miRNA genes (Mir96, Mir182, Mir183), cause hereditary hearing loss in humans and mice. Transgenic FVB/NCrl-Tg(GFAP-Mir183,Mir96,Mir182)MDW1 mice (Tg1MDW), which overexpress this neurosensory-specific miRNA cluster in the inner ear, were developed as a model system to identify, in the aggregate, target genes and biologic processes regulated by the miR-183 cluster. Histological assessments demonstrate Tg1MDW/1MDW homozygotes have a modest increase in cochlear inner hair cells (IHCs). Affymetrix mRNA microarray data analysis revealed that downregulated genes in P5 Tg1MDW/1MDW cochlea are statistically enriched for evolutionarily conserved predicted miR-96, miR-182 or miR-183 target sites. ABR and DPOAE tests from 18 days to 3 months of age revealed that Tg1MDW/1MDW homozygotes develop progressive neurosensory hearing loss that correlates with histologic assessments showing massive losses of both IHCs and outer hair cells (OHCs). This mammalian miRNA misexpression model demonstrates a potency and specificity of cochlear homeostasis for one of the dozens of endogenously co-expressed, evolutionally conserved, small non-protein coding miRNA families. It should be a valuable tool to predict and elucidate miRNA-regulated genes and integrated functional gene expression networks that significantly influence neurosensory cell differentiation, maturation and homeostasis.
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