The avian hearing organ is the basilar papilla that, in sharp contrast to the mammalian cochlea, can regenerate sensory hair cells. The mechanisms that trigger, sustain, and terminate the regenerative response in vivo are largely unknown.
The avian hearing organ is the basilar papilla that, in sharp contrast to the mammalian cochlea, can regenerate sensory hair cells and thereby recover from complete deafness within weeks. The mechanisms that trigger, sustain, and terminate the regenerative response in vivo are largely unknown. Here, we profile the changes in gene expression in the chicken basilar papilla after aminoglycoside antibiotic-induced hair cell loss using RNA-sequencing. The most prominent changes in gene expression were linked to the upregulation of interferon response genes which occurred in supporting cells, confirmed by single-cell RNA-sequencing and in situ hybridization. We determined that the JAK/STAT signaling pathway is essential for the interferon gene response in supporting cells, set in motion by hair cell loss. Four days after ototoxic damage, we identified newly regenerated, nascent auditory hair cells that express genes linked to termination of the interferon response. These cells are incipient modified neurons that represent a population of hair cells en route towards obtaining their location-specific and fully functional cell identity. The robust, transient expression of immune-related genes in supporting cells suggests a potential functional involvement of JAK/STAT signaling and interferon in sensory hair cell regeneration.