Edward C. and Amy H. Sewall Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery


  • Differential expression of mechanotransduction complex genes in auditory/vestibular hair cells in zebrafish. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience Smith, E. T., Sun, P., Yu, S. K., Raible, D. W., Nicolson, T. 2023; 16: 1274822


    Ciliated sensory cells such as photo- and olfactory receptors employ multiple types of opsins or hundreds of unique olfactory G-protein coupled receptors to respond to various wavelengths of light or odorants. With respect to hearing and balance, the mechanotransduction machinery involves fewer variants; however, emerging evidence suggests that specialization occurs at the molecular level. To address how the mechanotransduction complex varies in the inner ear, we characterized the expression of paralogous genes that encode components required for mechanotransduction in zebrafish hair cells using RNA-FISH and bioinformatic analysis. Our data indicate striking zonal differences in the expression of two components of the mechanotransduction complex which are known to physically interact, the transmembrane channel-like 1 and 2 (tmc1/2) family members and the calcium and integrin binding 2 and 3 (cib2/3) paralogues. tmc1, tmc2b, and cib3 are largely expressed in peripheral or extrastriolar hair cells, whereas tmc2a and cib2 are enriched in central or striolar hair cells. In addition, a gene implicated in deaf-blindness, ush1c, is highly enriched in a subset of extrastriolar hair cells. These results indicate that specific combinations of these components may optimize responses to mechanical stimuli in subtypes of sensory receptors within the inner ear.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fnmol.2023.1274822

    View details for PubMedID 38035267

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10682102

  • Transmembrane channel-like (Tmc) subunits contribute to frequency sensitivity in the zebrafish utricle. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience Sun, P., Smith, E., Nicolson, T. 2023


    Information about dynamic head motion is conveyed by a central 'striolar' zone of vestibular hair cells and afferent neurons in the inner ear. How vestibular hair cells are tuned to transduce dynamic stimuli at the molecular level is not well understood. Here we take advantage of the differential expression pattern of tmc1, tmc2a and tmc2b, which encode subunits of the mechanotransduction complex in zebrafish vestibular hair cells. To test the role of various combinations of Tmc subunits in transducing dynamic head movements, we measured reflexive eye movements induced by high frequency stimuli in single versus double tmc mutants. We found that tmc2a correlates with the broadest range of frequency sensitivity, whereas tmc2b mainly contributes to lower frequency responses. tmc1, which is excluded from the striolar zone, plays a minor role in sensing lower frequency stimuli. Our study suggests that the Tmc subunits impart functional differences to mechanotransduction of dynamic stimuli.Significance Statement Information about dynamic head movements is transmitted by sensory receptors, known as hair cells, in the labyrinth of the inner ear. The sensitivity of hair cells to fast or slow movements of the head differs according to cell type. Whether the mechanotransduction complex that converts mechanical stimuli into electrical signals in hair cells participates in conveying frequency information is not clear. Here we find that the transmembrane channel like 1/2 genes, which encode a central component of the complex, are differentially expressed in the utricle and contribute to frequency sensitivity in zebrafish.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1298-23.2023

    View details for PubMedID 37952940

  • Sensory deficit screen identifies nsf mutation that differentially affects SNARE recycling and quality control. Cell reports Gao, Y., Khan, Y. A., Mo, W., White, K. I., Perkins, M., Pfuetzner, R. A., Trapani, J. G., Brunger, A. T., Nicolson, T. 2023; 42 (4): 112345


    The AAA+ NSF complex is responsible for SNARE complex disassembly both before and after membrane fusion. Loss of NSF function results in pronounced developmental and degenerative defects. In a genetic screen for sensory deficits in zebrafish, we identified a mutation in nsf, I209N, that impairs hearing and balance in a dosage-dependent manner without accompanying defects in motility, myelination, and innervation. Invitro experiments demonstrate that while the I209N NSF protein recognizes SNARE complexes, the effects on disassembly are dependent upon the type of SNARE complex and I209N concentration. Higher levels of I209N protein produce a modest decrease in binary (syntaxin-SNAP-25) SNARE complex disassembly and residual ternary (syntaxin-1A-SNAP-25-synaptobrevin-2) disassembly, whereas at lower concentrations binary disassembly activity is strongly reduced and ternary disassembly activity is absent. Our study suggests that the differential effect on disassembly of SNARE complexes leads to selective effects on NSF-mediated membrane trafficking and auditory/vestibular function.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112345

    View details for PubMedID 37027300

  • Putting the Pieces Together: the Hair Cell Transduction Complex. Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology : JARO Holt, J. R., Tobin, M., Elferich, J., Gouaux, E., Ballesteros, A., Yan, Z., Ahmed, Z. M., Nicolson, T. 2021


    Identification of the components of the mechanosensory transduction complex in hair cells has been a major research interest for many auditory and vestibular scientists and has attracted attention from outside the field. The past two decades have witnessed a number of significant advances with emergence of compelling evidence implicating at least a dozen distinct molecular components of the transduction machinery. Yet, how the pieces of this ensemble fit together and function in harmony to enable the senses of hearing and balance has not been clarified. The goal of this review is to summarize a 2021 symposium presented at the annual mid-winter meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology. The symposium brought together the latest insights from within and beyond the field to examine individual components of the transduction complex and how these elements interact at molecular, structural, and biophysical levels to gate mechanosensitive channels and initiate sensory transduction in the inner ear. The review includes a brief historical background to set the stage for topics to follow that focus on structure, properties, and interactions of proteins such as CDH23, PCDH15, LHFPL5, TMIE, TMC1/2, and CIB2/3. We aim to present the diversity of ideas in this field and highlight emerging theories and concepts. This review will not only provide readers with a deeper appreciation of the components of the transduction apparatus and how they function together, but also bring to light areas of broad agreement, areas of scientific controversy, and opportunities for future scientific discovery.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s10162-021-00808-0

    View details for PubMedID 34617206

  • Navigating Hereditary Hearing Loss: Pathology of the Inner Ear. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience Nicolson, T. 2021; 15: 660812


    Inherited forms of deafness account for a sizable portion of hearing loss among children and adult populations. Many patients with sensorineural deficits have pathological manifestations in the peripheral auditory system, the inner ear. Within the hearing organ, the cochlea, most of the genetic forms of hearing loss involve defects in sensory detection and to some extent, signaling to the brain via the auditory cranial nerve. This review focuses on peripheral forms of hereditary hearing loss and how these impairments can be studied in diverse animal models or patient-derived cells with the ultimate goal of using the knowledge gained to understand the underlying biology and treat hearing loss.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fncel.2021.660812

    View details for PubMedID 34093131

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8172992

  • Disruption of tmc1/2a/2b genes in zebrafish reveals subunit requirements in subtypes of inner ear hair cells. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience Smith, E. T., Pacentine, I., Shipman, A., Hill, M., Nicolson, T. 2020


    Detection of sound and head movement requires mechanoelectrical transduction (MET) channels at tips of hair-cell stereocilia. In vertebrates, the transmembrane channel-like (TMC) proteins TMC1 and TMC2 fulfill critical roles in MET and substantial evidence implicates these TMCs as subunits of the MET channel. To identify developmental and functional roles of this Tmc subfamily in the zebrafish inner ear, we tested the effects of truncating mutations in tmc1, tmc2a, and tmc2b on in vivo mechanosensation at the onset of hearing and balance, before gender differentiation. We find that tmc1/2a/2b triple-mutant larvae cannot detect sound or orient with respect to gravity. They lack acoustic-evoked behavioral responses (AEBR), vestibular-induced eye movements (VIEM), and hair-cell activity as assessed with FM dye labeling and microphonic potentials. Despite complete loss of hair-cell function, tmc triple-mutant larvae retain normal gross morphology of hair bundles and proper trafficking of known MET components Protocadherin 15a (Pcdh15a), Lipoma HMGIC fusion partner-like 5 (Lhfpl5), and Transmembrane inner ear protein (Tmie). Transgenic, hair cell-specific expression of Tmc2b-mEGFP rescues the behavioral and physiological deficits in tmc triple mutants. Results from tmc single- and double- mutants evince a principle role for Tmc2a and Tmc2b in hearing and balance, respectively, whereas Tmc1 has lower overall impact. Our experiments reveal that in developing cristae, hair cells stratify into an upper, Tmc2a-dependent layer of teardrop shaped cells and a lower, Tmc1/2b-dependent tier of gourd shaped cells. Collectively our genetic evidence indicates that auditory/vestibular end organs and subsets of hair cells therein rely on distinct combinations of Tmc1/2a/2b.Significance StatementWe assessed the effects of tmc1/2a/2b truncation mutations on mechanoelectrical transduction (MET) in the inner-ear hair cells of larval zebrafish. tmc triple mutants lacked behavioral responses to sound and head movements, while further assays demonstrated no observable mechanosensitivity in the tmc1/2a/2b triple mutant inner ear. Examination of tmc double mutants revealed major contributions from Tmc2a and Tmc2b to macular function; however, Tmc1 had less overall impact. FM labeling of lateral cristae in tmc double mutants revealed the presence of two distinct cell types, an upper layer of teardrop shaped cells that rely on Tmc2a, and a lower layer of gourd shaped cells that rely on Tmc1/2b.

    View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0163-20.2020

    View details for PubMedID 32371604

  • The lhfpl5 Ohnologs lhfpl5a and lhfpl5b Are Required for Mechanotransduction in Distinct Populations of Sensory Hair Cells in Zebrafish FRONTIERS IN MOLECULAR NEUROSCIENCE Erickson, T., Pacentine, I. V., Venuto, A., Clemens, R., Nicolson, T. 2020; 12: 320


    Hair cells sense and transmit auditory, vestibular, and hydrodynamic information by converting mechanical stimuli into electrical signals. This process of mechano-electrical transduction (MET) requires a mechanically gated channel localized in the apical stereocilia of hair cells. In mice, lipoma HMGIC fusion partner-like 5 (LHFPL5) acts as an auxiliary subunit of the MET channel whose primary role is to correctly localize PCDH15 and TMC1 to the mechanotransduction complex. Zebrafish have two lhfpl5 genes (lhfpl5a and lhfpl5b), but their individual contributions to MET channel assembly and function have not been analyzed. Here we show that the zebrafish lhfpl5 genes are expressed in discrete populations of hair cells: lhfpl5a expression is restricted to auditory and vestibular hair cells in the inner ear, while lhfpl5b expression is specific to hair cells of the lateral line organ. Consequently, lhfpl5a mutants exhibit defects in auditory and vestibular function, while disruption of lhfpl5b affects hair cells only in the lateral line neuromasts. In contrast to previous reports in mice, localization of Tmc1 does not depend upon Lhfpl5 function in either the inner ear or lateral line organ. In both lhfpl5a and lhfpl5b mutants, GFP-tagged Tmc1 and Tmc2b proteins still localize to the stereocilia of hair cells. Using a stably integrated GFP-Lhfpl5a transgene, we show that the tip link cadherins Pcdh15a and Cdh23, along with the Myo7aa motor protein, are required for correct Lhfpl5a localization at the tips of stereocilia. Our work corroborates the evolutionarily conserved co-dependence between Lhfpl5 and Pcdh15, but also reveals novel requirements for Cdh23 and Myo7aa to correctly localize Lhfpl5a. In addition, our data suggest that targeting of Tmc1 and Tmc2b proteins to stereocilia in zebrafish hair cells occurs independently of Lhfpl5 proteins.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fnmol.2019.00320

    View details for Web of Science ID 000509937300001

    View details for PubMedID 32009898

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6974483

  • Temporal Vestibular Deficits in synaptojanin 1 (synj1) Mutants. Frontiers in molecular neuroscience Gao, Y., Nicolson, T. 2020; 13: 604189


    The lipid phosphatase synaptojanin 1 (synj1) is required for the disassembly of clathrin coats on endocytic compartments. In neurons such activity is necessary for the recycling of endocytosed membrane into synaptic vesicles. Mutations in zebrafish synj1 have been shown to disrupt the activity of ribbon synapses in sensory hair cells. After prolonged mechanical stimulation of hair cells, both phase locking of afferent nerve activity and the recovery of spontaneous release of synaptic vesicles are diminished in synj1 mutants. Presumably as a behavioral consequence of these synaptic deficits, synj1 mutants are unable to maintain an upright posture. To probe vestibular function with respect to postural control in synj1 mutants, we developed a method for assessing the vestibulospinal reflex (VSR) in larvae. We elicited the VSR by rotating the head and recorded tail movements. As expected, the VSR is completely absent in pcdh15a and lhfpl5a mutants that lack inner ear function. Conversely, lhfpl5b mutants, which have a selective loss of function of the lateral line organ, have normal VSRs, suggesting that the hair cells of this organ do not contribute to this reflex. In contrast to mechanotransduction mutants, the synj1 mutant produces normal tail movements during the initial cycles of rotation of the head. Both the amplitude and temporal aspects of the response are unchanged. However, after several rotations, the VSR in synj1 mutants was strongly diminished or absent. Mutant synj1 larvae are able to recover, but the time required for the reappearance of the VSR after prolonged stimulation is dramatically increased in synj1 mutants. Collectively, the data demonstrate a behavioral correlate of the synaptic defects caused by the loss of synj1 function. Our results suggest that defects in synaptic vesicle recycling give rise to fatigue of ribbons synapses and possibly other synapses of the VS circuit, leading to the loss of postural control.

    View details for DOI 10.3389/fnmol.2020.604189

    View details for PubMedID 33584199

  • Subunits of the mechano-electrical transduction channel, Tmc1/2b, require Tmie to localize in zebrafish sensory hair cells PLOS GENETICS Pacentine, I. V., Nicolson, T. 2019; 15 (2): e1007635


    Mutations in transmembrane inner ear (TMIE) cause deafness in humans; previous studies suggest involvement in the mechano-electrical transduction (MET) complex in sensory hair cells, but TMIE's precise role is unclear. In tmie zebrafish mutants, we observed that GFP-tagged Tmc1 and Tmc2b, which are subunits of the MET channel, fail to target to the hair bundle. In contrast, overexpression of Tmie strongly enhances the targeting of Tmc1-GFP and Tmc2b-GFP to stereocilia. To identify the motifs of Tmie underlying the regulation of the Tmcs, we systematically deleted or replaced peptide segments. We then assessed localization and functional rescue of each mutated/chimeric form of Tmie in tmie mutants. We determined that the first putative helix was dispensable and identified a novel critical region of Tmie, the extracellular region and transmembrane domain, which is required for both mechanosensitivity and Tmc2b-GFP expression in bundles. Collectively, our results suggest that Tmie's role in sensory hair cells is to target and stabilize Tmc channel subunits to the site of MET.

    View details for PubMedID 30726219

  • Subunits of the mechano-electrical transduction channel, Tmc1/2b, require Tmie to localize in zebrafish sensory hair cells. PlosGenetics Pacentine, I. V., Nicolson, T. 2019