What does it take to regenerate a limb? Biologists have long thought that organ regeneration in animals like zebrafish and salamanders involved stem cells that can generate any tissue in the body. But new research suggests that multiple cell types are needed to regrow the complete organ, at least in zebrafish.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown that cells capable of regenerating a zebrafish fin do not revert to stem cells that can form any tissue. Instead, the individual cells retain their original identities and only give rise to more of their own kind.
The findings support a recent shift in how biologists understand organ regeneration in organisms such as salamanders and zebrafish. Understanding regeneration in model organisms gives hope that it may one day be possible for amputees to regrow limbs or for heart attack patients to regrow healthy heart muscle.
"Limb regeneration has long captured people's imaginations," says Stephen L. Johnson, PhD, associate professor of genetics at the School of Medicine. "Traditionally, when people have looked at how a limb regenerates, they see a group of cells forming at the amputation site and the cells all look the same. So they've imagined that these cells have lost their identities and can become anything else. Our results show that this is not the case in the zebrafish fin. And there is mounting evidence that this is not the case in the salamander limb."
The study appears online May 16 in Developmental Cell.
When a zebrafish loses its fin, a special group of cells forms on the remaining stump. These cells, which appear identical to one another, regrow the entire limb, complete with all cell types required for a complex organ. This has suggested that these cells may be "pluripotent" stem cells, capable of forming almost every tissue in the body.
To determine if this was indeed the case, Johnson and postdoctoral
|Contact: Julia Evangelou Strait|
Washington University School of Medicine