Clarin-1, a tetraspan-like membrane protein defective in Usher syndrome type IIIA (USH3A), is essential for hair bundle morphogenesis in auditory hair cells. We report a new synaptic role for clarin-1 in mouse auditory hair cells elucidated by characterization of Clrn1 total (Clrn1ex4–/–) and postnatal hair cell–specific conditional (Clrn1ex4fl/fl Myo15-Cre+/–) knockout mice. Clrn1ex4–/– mice were profoundly deaf, whereas Clrn1ex4fl/fl Myo15-Cre+/– mice displayed progressive increases in hearing thresholds, with, initially, normal otoacoustic emissions and hair bundle morphology. Inner hair cell (IHC) patch-clamp recordings for the 2 mutant mice revealed defective exocytosis and a disorganization of synaptic F-actin and CaV1.3 Ca2+ channels, indicative of a synaptopathy. Postsynaptic defects were also observed, with an abnormally broad distribution of AMPA receptors associated with a loss of afferent dendrites and defective electrically evoked auditory brainstem responses. Protein-protein interaction assays revealed interactions between clarin-1 and the synaptic CaV1.3 Ca2+ channel complex via the Cavβ2 auxiliary subunit and the PDZ domain–containing protein harmonin (defective in Usher syndrome type IC). Cochlear gene therapy in vivo, through adeno-associated virus–mediated Clrn1 transfer into hair cells, prevented the synaptic defects and durably improved hearing in Clrn1ex4fl/fl Myo15-Cre+/– mice. Our results identify clarin-1 as a key organizer of IHC ribbon synapses, and suggest new treatment possibilities for USH3A patients.
Didier Dulon, Samantha Papal, Pranav Patni, Matteo Cortese, Philippe F.Y. Vincent, Margot Tertrais, Alice Emptoz, Abdelaziz Tlili, Yohan Bouleau, Vincent Michel, Sedigheh Delmaghani, Alain Aghaie, Elise Pepermans, Olinda Alegria-Prevot, Omar Akil, Lawrence Lustig, Paul Avan, Saaid Safieddine, Christine Petit, Aziz El-Amraoui