Non-mammalian vertebrates, including zebrafish, retain the ability to regenerate hair cells (HCs) due to unknown molecular mechanisms that regulate proliferation and conversion of non-sensory supporting cells (nsSCs) to HCs. This regenerative capacity is not conserved in mammals. Identification of uniquely expressed orthologous genes in zebrafish nsSCs may reveal gene candidates involved in the proliferation and transdifferentiation of zebrafish nsSCs to HCs in the inner ear. A list of orthologous protein-coding genes was generated based on an Ensembl Biomart comparison of the zebrafish and mouse genomes. Our previously published RNA-seq-based transcriptome datasets of isolated inner ear zebrafish nsSCs and HCs, and mouse non-sensory supporting pillar and Deiters’ cells, and HCs, were merged to analyze gene expression patterns between the two species. Out of 17,498 total orthologs, 11,752 were expressed in zebrafish nsSCs and over 10,000 orthologs were expressed in mouse pillar and Deiters’ cells. Differentially expressed genes common among the zebrafish nsSCs and mouse pillar and Deiters’ cells, compared to species-specific HCs, included 306 downregulated and 314 upregulated genes; however, over 1,500 genes were uniquely upregulated in zebrafish nsSCs. Functional analysis of genes uniquely expressed in nsSCs identified several transcription factors associated with cell fate determination, cell differentiation and nervous system development, indicating inherent molecular properties of nsSCs that promote self-renewal and transdifferentiation into new HCs. Our study provides a means of characterizing these orthologous genes, involved in proliferation and transdifferentiation of nsSCs to HCs in zebrafish, which may lead to identification of potential targets for HC regeneration in mammals.
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