Yu, X., Lau, D., Ng, C.P., and Roy, S. (2011) Cilia-driven fluid flow as an epigenetic cue for otolith biomineralization on sensory hair cells of the inner ear. Development (Cambridge, England). 138(3):487-494.
Ciliary motility is necessary for many developmental and physiological processes in animals. In zebrafish, motile cilia are thought to be required for the deposition of otoliths, which comprise crystals of protein and calcium carbonate, on hair cells of the inner ear. The identity of the motile cilia and their role in otolith biogenesis, however, remain controversial. Here, we show that the ear vesicle differentiates numerous motile cilia, the spatial distribution of which changes as a function of the expression pattern of the ciliogenic gene foxj1b. By contrast, the hair cells develop immotile kinocilia that serve as static tethers for otolith crystallization. In ears devoid of all cilia, otoliths can form but they are of irregular shapes and sizes and appear to attach instead to the hair cell apical membranes. Moreover, overproduction of motile cilia also disrupts otolith deposition through sustained agitation of the precursor particles. Therefore, the correct spatial and temporal distribution of the motile cilia is crucial for proper otolith formation. Our findings support the view that the hair cells express a binding factor for the otolith precursors, while the motile cilia ensure that the precursors do not sediment prematurely and are efficiently directed towards the hair cells. We also provide evidence that the kinocilia are modified motile cilia that depend on Foxj1b for their differentiation. We propose that in hair cells, a Foxj1b-dependent motile ciliogenic program is altered by the proneural Atoh proteins to promote the differentiation of immotile kinocilia.