The distinctive planar polarity of auditory hair cells is evident in the polarized organization of the stereociliary bundle. Mutations in the core planar cell polarity gene Van Gogh-like 2 (Vangl2) result in hair cells that fail to properly orient their stereociliary bundles along the mediolateral axis of the cochlea. The severity of this phenotype is graded along the length of the cochlea, similar to the hair cell differentiation gradient, suggesting that an active refinement process corrects planar polarity phenotypes in Vangl2 knock-out (KO) mice. Because Vangl2 gene deletions are lethal, Vangl2 conditional knock-outs (CKOs) were generated to test this hypothesis. When crossed with Pax2-Cre, Vangl2 is deleted from the inner ear, yielding planar polarity phenotypes similar to Vangl2 KOs at late embryonic stages except that Vangl2 CKO mice are viable and do not have craniorachischisis like Vangl2 KOs. Quantification of planar polarity deficits through postnatal development demonstrates the activity of a Vangl2-independent refinement process that rescues the planar polarity phenotype within 10 d of birth. In contrast, the Pax2-Cre;Vangl2 CKO has profound changes in the shape and distribution of outer pillar cell and Deiters' cell phalangeal processes that are not corrected during the period of planar polarity refinement. Auditory brainstem response analyses of adult mice show a 10 -15 dB shift in auditory threshold, and distortion product otoacoustic emission measurements indicate that this mild hearing deficit is of cochlear origin. Together, these data demonstrate a Vangl2-independent refinement mechanism that actively reorients auditory stereociliary bundles and reveals an unexpected role of Vangl2 during supporting cell morphogenesis.
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