Zinc-finger transcription factors GATA2 and GATA3 are both expressed in the developing inner ear, although their overlapping versus distinct activities in adult definitive inner ear are not well understood. We show here that GATA2 and GATA3 are co-expressed in cochlear spiral ganglion cells and redundantly function in the maintenance of spiral ganglion cells and auditory neural circuitry. Notably, Gata2 and Gata3 compound heterozygous mutant mice had a diminished number of spiral ganglion cells due to enhanced apoptosis, which resulted in progressive hearing loss. The decrease in spiral ganglion cellularity was associated with lowered expression of neurotrophin receptor TrkC that is an essential factor for spiral ganglion cell survival. We further show that Gata2 null mutants that additionally bear a Gata2 YAC (yeast artificial chromosome) that counteracts the lethal hematopoietic deficiency due to complete Gata2 loss nonetheless failed to complement the deficiency in neonatal spiral ganglion neurons. Furthermore, cochlea-specific Gata2 deletion mice also had fewer spiral ganglion cells and resultant hearing impairment. These results show that GATA2 and GATA3 redundantly function to maintain spiral ganglion cells and hearing. We propose possible mechanisms underlying hearing loss in human GATA2- or GATA3-related genetic disorders.
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