In mammals, hair cell loss causes irreversible hearing and balance impairment because hair cells are terminally differentiated and do not regenerate spontaneously. By profiling gene expression in developing mouse vestibular organs, we identified the retinoblastoma protein (pRb) as a candidate regulator of cell cycle exit in hair cells. Differentiated and functional mouse hair cells with a targeted deletion of Rb1 undergo mitosis, divide, and cycle, yet continue to become highly differentiated and functional. Moreover, acute loss of Rb1 in postnatal hair cells caused cell cycle reentry. Manipulation of the pRb pathway may ultimately lead to mammalian hair cell regeneration.
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