Hammond, K.L., Loynes, H.E., Mowbray, C., Runke, G., Hammerschmidt, M., Mullins, M.C., Hildreth, V., Chaudhry, B., and Whitfield, T.T. (2009) A late role for bmp2b in the morphogenesis of semicircular canal ducts in the zebrafish inner ear. PLoS One. 4(2):e4368.
BACKGROUND: The Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) genes bmp2 and bmp4 are expressed in highly conserved patterns in the developing vertebrate inner ear. It has, however, proved difficult to elucidate the function of BMPs during ear development as mutations in these genes cause early embryonic lethality. Previous studies using conditional approaches in mouse and chicken have shown that Bmp4 has a role in semicircular canal and crista development, but there is currently no direct evidence for the role of Bmp2 in the developing inner ear. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We have used an RNA rescue strategy to test the role of bmp2b in the zebrafish inner ear directly. Injection of bmp2b or smad5 mRNA into homozygous mutant swirl (bmp2b(-/-)) embryos rescues the early patterning defects in these mutants and the fish survive to adulthood. As injected RNA will only last, at most, for the first few days of embryogenesis, all later development occurs in the absence of bmp2b function. Although rescued swirl adult fish are viable, they have balance defects suggestive of vestibular dysfunction. Analysis of the inner ears of these fish reveals a total absence of semicircular canal ducts, structures involved in the detection of angular motion. All other regions of the ear, including the ampullae and cristae, are present and appear normal. Early stages of otic development in rescued swirl embryos are also normal. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our findings demonstrate a critical late role for bmp2b in the morphogenesis of semicircular canals in the zebrafish inner ear. This is the first demonstration of a developmental role for any gene during post-embryonic stages of otic morphogenesis in the zebrafish. Despite differences in the early stages of semicircular canal formation between zebrafish and amniotes, the role of Bmp2 in semicircular canal duct outgrowth is likely to be conserved between different vertebrate species.