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Riley, Bruce Professor


My lab studies inner ear development in zebrafish. A prominent feature of our research is to investigate how cell-cell signaling and downstream gene-interactions control development. One project in the lab focuses on how cell signaling regulates ectodermal patterning during gastrulation to establish the otic placode, the precursor of the inner ear. Our recent work shows that localized Fgf signaling is especially critical for inducing formation of the otic placode, and members of the Pax2/5/8 family of transcription factors are important mediators of Fgf signaling. During later stages of inner ear development, we are exploring how sensory hair cells and neurons are regulated. Our studies address how these cells initially form, how they are genetically maintained, and how they become specialized for hearing vs. balance. We are also investigating how zebrafish can replace dead and damaged hair cells, an ability that mammals have lost. The inability to regenerate hair cells explains why humans show progressive irreversible hearing loss as we age. It is hoped that activating or augmenting human homologs of genes shown to operate in zebrafish might help restore hearing and balance in humans.