Hair cell loss in higher vertebrates appears to be permanent. Progenitors that are quiescent in the organ of Corti are the best candidates for the restoration of the different cell types in the organ of Corti. However, little is known about the presence of these progenitors and their capacity to differentiate into hair cells. This review will first highlight recent findings concerning the identification of progenitor cells that are able to proliferate and to differentiate into hair cells. Principal factors impinging on this process are then reviewed. Auditory hair cell progenitors have been identified and, under appropriate conditions, are capable of proliferating and differentiating into hair cells. Characterization of signals that maintain, expand and regulate these progenitors will be essential for the biomedical application of stem cell populations to restore hearing.
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