This brief overview shows that a start has been made to molecularly dissect vertebrate ear development and its evolutionary conservation to the development of the insect hearing organ. However, neither the patterning process of the ear nor the patterning process of insect sensory organs is sufficiently known at the moment to provide more than a first glimpse. Moreover, hardly anything is known about otocyst development of the cephalopod molluscs, another triploblast lineage that evolved complex 'ears'. We hope that the apparent conserved functional and cellular components present in the ciliated sensory neurons/hair cells will also be found in the genes required for vertebrate ear and insect sensory organ morphogenesis (Fig. 3). Likewise, we expect that homologous pre-patterning genes will soon be identified for the non-sensory cell development, which is more than a blocking of neuronal development through the Delta/Notch signaling system. Generation of the apparently unique ear could thus represent a multiplication of non-sensory cells by asymmetric and symmetric divisions as well as modification of existing patterning process by implementing novel developmental modules. In the final analysis, the vertebrate ear may come about by increasing the level of gene interactions in an already existing and highly conserved interactive cascade of bHLH genes. Since this was apparently achieved in all three lineages of triploblasts independently (Fig. 3), we now need to understand how much of the morphogenetic cascades are equally conserved across phyla to generate complex ears. The existing mutations in humans and mice may be able to point the direction of future research to understand the development of specific cell types and morphologies in the formation of complex arthropod, cephalopod, and vertebrate 'ears'.
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