Disruption of tmc1/2a/2b Genes in Zebrafish Reveals Subunit Requirements in Subtypes of Inner Ear Hair Cells
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, vestibular-induced eye movements, 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 STATEMENT We 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.