Sculpting the labyrinth: epithelial morphogenesis in the zebrafish inner ear


  • Prof Tanya Whitfield

    University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

Project summary

Development of the labyrinthine structure of the inner ear - the organ of hearing and balance - presents a truly fascinating problem: how do the complex shapes of a sensory organ form in the embryo? We study the zebrafish embryo, which offers unique advantages for imaging and genetic manipulation. Using fluorescently labelled cells and live imaging, we will focus on events that bend, fuse and break sheets of cells called epithelia, testing hypotheses for how genes contribute to the generation of shape and form. We will test the importance of cell shape, cell movements, cell death, and the functions of selected genes and signalling molecules. This basic research proposal will improve our understanding of how epithelial cells rearrange to form organ systems during embryogenesis. The work has significance and impact beyond the developing inner ear, with relevance for understanding the origin of human congenital birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft palate.