Search tips
Search criteria

Results 1-25 (69941)

Clipboard (0)

Related Articles

1.  Tissue absence initiates regeneration through Follistatin-mediated inhibition of Activin signaling 
eLife  2013;2:e00247.
Regeneration is widespread, but mechanisms that activate regeneration remain mysterious. Planarians are capable of whole-body regeneration and mount distinct molecular responses to wounds that result in tissue absence and those that do not. A major question is how these distinct responses are activated. We describe a follistatin homolog (Smed-follistatin) required for planarian regeneration. Smed-follistatin inhibition blocks responses to tissue absence but does not prevent normal tissue turnover. Two activin homologs (Smed-activin-1 and Smed-activin-2) are required for the Smed-follistatin phenotype. Finally, Smed-follistatin is wound-induced and expressed at higher levels following injuries that cause tissue absence. These data suggest that Smed-follistatin inhibits Smed-Activin proteins to trigger regeneration specifically following injuries involving tissue absence and identify a mechanism critical for regeneration initiation, a process important across the animal kingdom.
eLife digest
Most animals can respond to injury with some form of tissue regeneration. In mammals, this is limited to wound healing, whereas other vertebrates—such as salamanders and zebrafish—can regenerate parts of internal organs and even entire appendages. The planarian, a flatworm, is even more remarkable, being able to regenerate its head or tail following amputation, and even a whole animal from just a small body fragment. This is particularly impressive given that planarians have a complex internal anatomy, which includes muscles, intestines, a system similar to kidneys, and a central nervous system with a brain.
How is such regeneration accomplished? Why are planarians able to regenerate their bodies so extensively, whereas humans cannot? To what extent are the mechanisms of planarian regeneration common to other animals? These questions have driven the study of planarian regeneration for more than a century, but it is only in recent years that the tools needed to address these questions at the molecular level have become available.
Planarian regeneration proceeds over several days and involves multiple processes, including gene expression, cell division and cell death. Importantly, it has recently been shown that planarians activate different responses depending on whether an injury results in significant tissue loss—and therefore requires regeneration for repair—or if simple wound healing will be sufficient. The mechanisms behind these different responses to injury have, however, remained a mystery.
Now, Gaviño et al. have identified a key mechanism in the initiation of regeneration following tissue loss. This is centered on the gene follistatin, which is expressed following wounding. When genetic techniques are used to disrupt the expression of follistatin, regeneration is completely blocked. However, the animal’s ability to routinely replace old cells via a stem-cell mediated mechanism is unaffected. This indicates that follistatin is specifically required for the replacement of cells lost through injury. Gaviño et al. further demonstrate that the protein encoded by follistatin likely initiates tissue regeneration upon substantial tissue loss through inhibition of proteins called Activins.
Activin and Follistatin proteins are broadly conserved in evolution, and are also expressed in mammals, raising the possibility that similar molecular circuits may govern regenerative responses in many species.
PMCID: PMC3771573  PMID: 24040508
planarian regeneration; wound signaling; Follistatin; Activin; Other
2.  The TALE Class Homeobox Gene Smed-prep Defines the Anterior Compartment for Head Regeneration 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(4):e1000915.
Planaria continue to blossom as a model system for understanding all aspects of regeneration. They provide an opportunity to understand how the replacement of missing tissues from preexisting adult tissue is orchestrated at the molecular level. When amputated along any plane, planaria are capable of regenerating all missing tissue and rescaling all structures to the new size of the animal. Recently, rapid progress has been made in understanding the developmental pathways that control planarian regeneration. In particular Wnt/beta-catenin signaling is central in promoting posterior fates and inhibiting anterior identity. Currently the mechanisms that actively promote anterior identity remain unknown. Here, Smed-prep, encoding a TALE class homeodomain, is described as the first gene necessary for correct anterior fate and patterning during planarian regeneration. Smed-prep is expressed at high levels in the anterior portion of whole animals, and Smed-prep(RNAi) leads to loss of the whole brain during anterior regeneration, but not during lateral regeneration or homeostasis in intact worms. Expression of markers of different anterior fated cells are greatly reduced or lost in Smed-prep(RNAi) animals. We find that the ectopic anterior structures induced by abrogation of Wnt signaling also require Smed-prep to form. We use double knockdown experiments with the S. mediterranea ortholog of nou-darake (that when knocked down induces ectopic brain formation) to show that Smed-prep defines an anterior fated compartment within which stem cells are permitted to assume brain fate, but is not required directly for this differentiation process. Smed-prep is the first gene clearly implicated as being necessary for promoting anterior fate and the first homeobox gene implicated in establishing positional identity during regeneration. Together our results suggest that Smed-prep is required in stem cell progeny as they form the anterior regenerative blastema and is required for specifying anterior cell fates and correct patterning.
Author Summary
Understanding the genetic basis of tissue regeneration (remaking) from adult structures is an important long-term goal for biomedical science. The widespread nature of regenerative phenomena in different animals allows us to study evolution's answers to coordinating this process. We use the relatively simple and experimentally tractable planarian model to study this process. After almost any amputation these animals unerringly replace all missing tissues. This ability has two key components. Firstly, planaria have a population of stem cells capable of rapidly dividing and becoming all the cell types that are missing, such as muscle, gut, and brain cells, after amputation. Secondly, the genetic information in these stem cells and the remaining tissue is able to coordinate the regeneration process so that new structures are the correct size and in the correct place. This allows the production of a fully functional individual at the end of the regeneration process. We are specifically interested in how structures end up in the correct place in new tissue they form. Here we discover and describe the role of a gene, called Smed-prep, particularly central to this process. Smed-prep is required to coordinate the regeneration of the planarian brain, arguably the most exciting part of planarian regeneration.
PMCID: PMC2858555  PMID: 20422023
3.  The planarian flatworm: an in vivo model for stem cell biology and nervous system regeneration 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2010;4(1):12-19.
Planarian flatworms are an exception among bilaterians in that they possess a large pool of adult stem cells that enables them to promptly regenerate any part of their body, including the brain. Although known for two centuries for their remarkable regenerative capabilities, planarians have only recently emerged as an attractive model for studying regeneration and stem cell biology. This revival is due in part to the availability of a sequenced genome and the development of new technologies, such as RNA interference and next-generation sequencing, which facilitate studies of planarian regeneration at the molecular level. Here, we highlight why planarians are an exciting tool in the study of regeneration and its underlying stem cell biology in vivo, and discuss the potential promises and current limitations of this model organism for stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
PMCID: PMC3014342  PMID: 21135057
4.  Comparative transcriptome analysis between planarian Dugesia japonica and other platyhelminth species 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:289.
Planarians are considered to be among the extant animals close to one of the earliest groups of organisms that acquired a central nervous system (CNS) during evolution. Planarians have a bilobed brain with nine lateral branches from which a variety of external signals are projected into different portions of the main lobes. Various interneurons process different signals to regulate behavior and learning/memory. Furthermore, planarians have robust regenerative ability and are attracting attention as a new model organism for the study of regeneration. Here we conducted large-scale EST analysis of the head region of the planarian Dugesia japonica to construct a database of the head-region transcriptome, and then performed comparative analyses among related species.
A total of 54,752 high-quality EST reads were obtained from a head library of the planarian Dugesia japonica, and 13,167 unigene sequences were produced by de novo assembly. A new method devised here revealed that proteins related to metabolism and defense mechanisms have high flexibility of amino-acid substitutions within the planarian family. Eight-two CNS-development genes were found in the planarian (cf. C. elegans 3; chicken 129). Comparative analysis revealed that 91% of the planarian CNS-development genes could be mapped onto the schistosome genome, but one-third of these shared genes were not expressed in the schistosome.
We constructed a database that is a useful resource for comparative planarian transcriptome studies. Analysis comparing homologous genes between two planarian species showed that the potential of genes is important for accumulation of amino-acid substitutions. The presence of many CNS-development genes in our database supports the notion that the planarian has a fundamental brain with regard to evolution and development at not only the morphological/functional, but also the genomic, level. In addition, our results indicate that the planarian CNS-development genes already existed before the divergence of planarians and schistosomes from their common ancestor.
PMCID: PMC3507646  PMID: 22747887
5.  SMG-1 and mTORC1 Act Antagonistically to Regulate Response to Injury and Growth in Planarians 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002619.
Planarian flatworms are able to both regenerate their whole bodies and continuously adapt their size to nutrient status. Tight control of stem cell proliferation and differentiation during these processes is the key feature of planarian biology. Here we show that the planarian homolog of the phosphoinositide 3-kinase-related kinase (PIKK) family member SMG-1 and mTOR complex 1 components are required for this tight control. Loss of smg-1 results in a hyper-responsiveness to injury and growth and the formation of regenerative blastemas that remain undifferentiated and that lead to lethal ectopic outgrowths. Invasive stem cell hyper-proliferation, hyperplasia, hypertrophy, and differentiation defects are hallmarks of this uncontrolled growth. These data imply a previously unappreciated and novel physiological function for this PIKK family member. In contrast we found that planarian members of the mTOR complex 1, tor and raptor, are required for the initial response to injury and blastema formation. Double smg-1 RNAi experiments with tor or raptor show that abnormal growth requires mTOR signalling. We also found that the macrolide rapamycin, a natural compound inhibitor of mTORC1, is able to increase the survival rate of smg-1 RNAi animals by decreasing cell proliferation. Our findings support a model where Smg-1 acts as a novel regulator of both the response to injury and growth control mechanisms. Our data suggest the possibility that this may be by suppressing mTOR signalling. Characterisation of both the planarian mTORC1 signalling components and another PIKK family member as key regulators of regeneration and growth will influence future work on regeneration, growth control, and the development of anti-cancer therapies that target mTOR signalling.
Author Summary
Planarian flatworms have a remarkable ability to regenerate that has driven the curiosity of scientists for more than a century. They are also able to continuously grow or degrow their bodies, depending on food availability. Around 25% of the cells in the planarian body are adult stem cells, which are responsible for this incredible plasticity. The initial response of planarians to injury is characterised by a rapid increase in stem cell division. Subsequently planarians form a specialised new tissue called the regenerative blastema to replace missing tissues. Currently, very little is known about the molecular signals controlling the response to injury or the tight regulation of growth. Here we discovered that a gene called Smg-1 and the conserved mTOR signalling pathway, a central regulator of animal growth, are both regulators of this process. SMG-1 is required to limit and act as a brake on the initial response to injury and ensure that it does not run out of control, while in contrast mTOR signalling is required to drive this process forward. Loss of SMG-1 leads to hyperactive responses to injury and subsequent growth that continues out of control. Eventually, these animals form outgrowths, which display several hallmarks of human cancers. These opposing roles suggested that Smg-1 phenotype would require mTOR signalling, and by reducing mTOR signalling and SMG-1 activity at the same time we found that this was the case. We conclude that Smg-1 is a novel regulator of regeneration and animal growth with an antagonistic role to mTOR signalling in planarians.
PMCID: PMC3315482  PMID: 22479207
6.  COE Loss-of-Function Analysis Reveals a Genetic Program Underlying Maintenance and Regeneration of the Nervous System in Planarians 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(10):e1004746.
Members of the COE family of transcription factors are required for central nervous system (CNS) development. However, the function of COE in the post-embryonic CNS remains largely unknown. An excellent model for investigating gene function in the adult CNS is the freshwater planarian. This animal is capable of regenerating neurons from an adult pluripotent stem cell population and regaining normal function. We previously showed that planarian coe is expressed in differentiating and mature neurons and that its function is required for proper CNS regeneration. Here, we show that coe is essential to maintain nervous system architecture and patterning in intact (uninjured) planarians. We took advantage of the robust phenotype in intact animals to investigate the genetic programs coe regulates in the CNS. We compared the transcriptional profiles of control and coe RNAi planarians using RNA sequencing and identified approximately 900 differentially expressed genes in coe knockdown animals, including 397 downregulated genes that were enriched for nervous system functional annotations. Next, we validated a subset of the downregulated transcripts by analyzing their expression in coe-deficient planarians and testing if the mRNAs could be detected in coe+ cells. These experiments revealed novel candidate targets of coe in the CNS such as ion channel, neuropeptide, and neurotransmitter genes. Finally, to determine if loss of any of the validated transcripts underscores the coe knockdown phenotype, we knocked down their expression by RNAi and uncovered a set of coe-regulated genes implicated in CNS regeneration and patterning, including orthologs of sodium channel alpha-subunit and pou4. Our study broadens the knowledge of gene expression programs regulated by COE that are required for maintenance of neural subtypes and nervous system architecture in adult animals.
Author Summary
COE transcription factors are conserved across widely divergent animals and are crucial for organismal development. COE genes also play roles in adult animals and have been implicated in central nervous system (CNS) diseases; however, the function of COE in the post-embryonic CNS remains poorly understood. Planarian regeneration provides an excellent model to study the function of transcription factors in cell differentiation and in terminally differentiated cells. In planarians, coe is expressed in differentiating and mature neurons, and its function is required for CNS regeneration. In this study, we show that coe is required to maintain structure and function of the CNS in uninjured planarians. We took advantage of this phenotype to identify genes regulated by coe by comparing global gene expression changes between control and coe mRNA-deficient planarians. This approach revealed downregulated genes downstream of coe with biological roles in CNS function. Expression analysis of downregulated genes uncovered previously unknown candidate targets of coe in the CNS. Furthermore, functional analysis of downstream targets identified coe-regulated genes required for CNS regeneration. These results demonstrate that the roles of COE in stem cell specification and neuronal function are active and indispensable during CNS renewal in adult animals.
PMCID: PMC4214590  PMID: 25356635
7.  Novel monoclonal antibodies to study tissue regeneration in planarians 
Planarians are an attractive model organism for studying stem cell-based regeneration due to their ability to replace all of their tissues from a population of adult stem cells. The molecular toolkit for planarian studies currently includes the ability to study gene function using RNA interference (RNAi) and observe gene expression via in situ hybridizations. However, there are few antibodies available to visualize protein expression, which would greatly enhance analysis of RNAi experiments as well as allow further characterization of planarian cell populations using immunocytochemistry and other immunological techniques. Thus, additional, easy-to-use, and widely available monoclonal antibodies would be advantageous to study regeneration in planarians.
We have created seven monoclonal antibodies by inoculating mice with formaldehyde-fixed cells isolated from dissociated 3-day regeneration blastemas. These monoclonal antibodies can be used to label muscle fibers, axonal projections in the central and peripheral nervous systems, two populations of intestinal cells, ciliated cells, a subset of neoblast progeny, and discrete cells within the central nervous system as well as the regeneration blastema. We have tested these antibodies using eight variations of a formaldehyde-based fixation protocol and determined reliable protocols for immunolabeling whole planarians with each antibody. We found that labeling efficiency for each antibody varies greatly depending on the addition or removal of tissue processing steps that are used for in situ hybridization or immunolabeling techniques. Our experiments show that a subset of the antibodies can be used alongside markers commonly used in planarian research, including anti-SYNAPSIN and anti-SMEDWI, or following whole-mount in situ hybridization experiments.
The monoclonal antibodies described in this paper will be a valuable resource for planarian research. These antibodies have the potential to be used to better understand planarian biology and to characterize phenotypes following RNAi experiments. In addition, we present alterations to fixation protocols and demonstrate how these changes can increase the labeling efficiencies of antibodies used to stain whole planarians.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12861-014-0050-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4307677  PMID: 25604901
Planaria; Regeneration; Schmidtea mediterranea; Monoclonal antibodies; Immunostaining; Immunohistochemistry
8.  A Dual Platform Approach to Transcript Discovery for the Planarian Schmidtea Mediterranea to Establish RNAseq for Stem Cell and Regeneration Biology 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15617.
The use of planarians as a model system is expanding and the mechanisms that control planarian regeneration are being elucidated. The planarian Schmidtea mediterranea in particular has become a species of choice. Currently the planarian research community has access to this whole genome sequencing project and over 70,000 expressed sequence tags. However, the establishment of massively parallel sequencing technologies has provided the opportunity to define genetic content, and in particular transcriptomes, in unprecedented detail. Here we apply this approach to the planarian model system. We have sequenced, mapped and assembled 581,365 long and 507,719,814 short reads from RNA of intact and mixed stages of the first 7 days of planarian regeneration. We used an iterative mapping approach to identify and define de novo splice sites with short reads and increase confidence in our transcript predictions. We more than double the number of transcripts currently defined by publicly available ESTs, resulting in a collection of 25,053 transcripts described by combining platforms. We also demonstrate the utility of this collection for an RNAseq approach to identify potential transcripts that are enriched in neoblast stem cells and their progeny by comparing transcriptome wide expression levels between irradiated and intact planarians. Our experiments have defined an extensive planarian transcriptome that can be used as a template for RNAseq and can also help to annotate the S. mediterranea genome. We anticipate that suites of other 'omic approaches will also be facilitated by building on this comprehensive data set including RNAseq across many planarian regenerative stages, scenarios, tissues and phenotypes generated by RNAi.
PMCID: PMC3001875  PMID: 21179477
9.  A Low Percent Ethanol Method for Immobilizing Planarians 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e15310.
Planarians have recently become a popular model system for the study of adult stem cells, regeneration and polarity. The system is attractive for both undergraduate and graduate research labs, since planarian colonies are low cost and easy to maintain. Also in situ hybridization, immunofluorescence and RNA-interference (RNAi) gene knockdown techniques have been developed for planarian studies. However, imaging of live worms (particularly at high magnifications) is difficult because animals are strongly photophobic; they quickly move away from light sources and out of frame. The current methods available to inhibit movement in planarians include RNAi injection and exposure to cold temperatures. The former is labor and time intensive, while the latter precludes the use of many fluorescent reporter dyes. Here, we report a simple, inexpensive and reversible method to immobilize planarians for live imaging. Our data show that a short 1 hour treatment with 3% ethanol (EtOH) is sufficient to inhibit both the fine and gross movements of Schmidtea mediterranea planarians, of the typical size used (4–6 mm), with full recovery of movement within 3–4 hours. Importantly, EtOH treatment did not interfere with regeneration, even after repeated exposure, nor lyse epithelial cells (as assayed by H&E staining). We demonstrate that a short exposure to a low concentration of EtOH is a quick and effective method of immobilizing planarians, one that is easily adaptable to planarians of all sizes and will increase the accessibility of live imaging assays to planarian researchers.
PMCID: PMC3001876  PMID: 21179478
10.  Generation of cell type-specific monoclonal antibodies for the planarian and optimization of sample processing for immunolabeling 
BMC Developmental Biology  2014;14(1):45.
Efforts to elucidate the cellular and molecular mechanisms of regeneration have required the application of methods to detect specific cell types and tissues in a growing cohort of experimental animal models. For example, in the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea, substantial improvements to nucleic acid hybridization and electron microscopy protocols have facilitated the visualization of regenerative events at the cellular level. By contrast, immunological resources have been slower to emerge. Specifically, the repertoire of antibodies recognizing planarian antigens remains limited, and a more systematic approach is needed to evaluate the effects of processing steps required during sample preparation for immunolabeling.
To address these issues and to facilitate studies of planarian digestive system regeneration, we conducted a monoclonal antibody (mAb) screen using phagocytic intestinal cells purified from the digestive tracts of living planarians as immunogens. This approach yielded ten antibodies that recognized intestinal epitopes, as well as markers for the central nervous system, musculature, secretory cells, and epidermis. In order to improve signal intensity and reduce non-specific background for a subset of mAbs, we evaluated the effects of fixation and other steps during sample processing. We found that fixative choice, treatments to remove mucus and bleach pigment, as well as methods for tissue permeabilization and antigen retrieval profoundly influenced labeling by individual antibodies. These experiments led to the development of a step-by-step workflow for determining optimal specimen preparation for labeling whole planarians as well as unbleached histological sections.
We generated a collection of monoclonal antibodies recognizing the planarian intestine and other tissues; these antibodies will facilitate studies of planarian tissue morphogenesis. We also developed a protocol for optimizing specimen processing that will accelerate future efforts to generate planarian-specific antibodies, and to extend functional genetic studies of regeneration to post-transcriptional aspects of gene expression, such as protein localization or modification. Our efforts demonstrate the importance of systematically testing multiple approaches to species-specific idiosyncracies, such as mucus removal and pigment bleaching, and may serve as a template for the development of immunological resources in other emerging model organisms.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12861-014-0045-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4299570  PMID: 25528559
Planarian; Regeneration; Intestine; Monoclonal antibody screen; Immunohistochemistry; Immunofluorescence
11.  dlx and sp6-9 Control Optic Cup Regeneration in a Prototypic Eye 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(8):e1002226.
Optic cups are a structural feature of diverse eyes, from simple pit eyes to camera eyes of vertebrates and cephalopods. We used the planarian prototypic eye as a model to study the genetic control of optic cup formation and regeneration. We identified two genes encoding transcription factors, sp6-9 and dlx, that were expressed in the eye specifically in the optic cup and not the photoreceptor neurons. RNAi of these genes prevented formation of visible optic cups during regeneration. Planarian regeneration requires an adult proliferative cell population with stem cell-like properties called the neoblasts. We found that optic cup formation occurred only after migration of progressively differentiating progenitor cells from the neoblast population. The eye regeneration defect caused by dlx and sp6-9 RNAi can be explained by a failure to generate these early optic cup progenitors. Dlx and Sp6-9 genes function as a module during the development of diverse animal appendages, including vertebrate and insect limbs. Our work reveals a novel function for this gene pair in the development of a fundamental eye component, and it utilizes these genes to demonstrate a mechanism for total organ regeneration in which extensive cell movement separates new cell specification from organ morphogenesis.
Author Summary
Some invertebrates, such as planarians and Hydra, can regenerate fully after amputations that remove large parts of the body. We investigated how cells in the body of planarians provide new cells for eye regeneration after complete head removal. Planarians possess highly potent regenerative cells (neoblasts) in a compartment inside the worm, and these cells must be present in a body fragment for it to regenerate. We identify a pair of transcription factors, sp6-9 and dlx, that are expressed in the optic cup, and use expression of these genes as markers to demonstrate that lineage restriction of eye cells during regeneration begins within the neoblast compartment. dlx and sp6-9 are essential for formation of optic cup progenitors, and inhibition of these genes with RNA interference results in eyes that lack optic cups after regeneration. During eye development in both flies and vertebrates, progenitors form within a patterned epithelium. Interestingly, planarian eye precursors only aggregate once they have stopped cycling and undergone extensive migration. At this stage they already express markers of the terminally differentiated state. Therefore, we identify a mechanism for eye formation during regeneration and a novel function for a conserved gene pair in eye regeneration.
PMCID: PMC3154955  PMID: 21852957
12.  JNK Controls the Onset of Mitosis in Planarian Stem Cells and Triggers Apoptotic Cell Death Required for Regeneration and Remodeling 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(6):e1004400.
Regeneration of lost tissues depends on the precise interpretation of molecular signals that control and coordinate the onset of proliferation, cellular differentiation and cell death. However, the nature of those molecular signals and the mechanisms that integrate the cellular responses remain largely unknown. The planarian flatworm is a unique model in which regeneration and tissue renewal can be comprehensively studied in vivo. The presence of a population of adult pluripotent stem cells combined with the ability to decode signaling after wounding enable planarians to regenerate a complete, correctly proportioned animal within a few days after any kind of amputation, and to adapt their size to nutritional changes without compromising functionality. Here, we demonstrate that the stress-activated c-jun–NH2–kinase (JNK) links wound-induced apoptosis to the stem cell response during planarian regeneration. We show that JNK modulates the expression of wound-related genes, triggers apoptosis and attenuates the onset of mitosis in stem cells specifically after tissue loss. Furthermore, in pre-existing body regions, JNK activity is required to establish a positive balance between cell death and stem cell proliferation to enable tissue renewal, remodeling and the maintenance of proportionality. During homeostatic degrowth, JNK RNAi blocks apoptosis, resulting in impaired organ remodeling and rescaling. Our findings indicate that JNK-dependent apoptotic cell death is crucial to coordinate tissue renewal and remodeling required to regenerate and to maintain a correctly proportioned animal. Hence, JNK might act as a hub, translating wound signals into apoptotic cell death, controlled stem cell proliferation and differentiation, all of which are required to coordinate regeneration and tissue renewal.
Author Summary
Planarians, thanks to their extraordinary regenerative capacity, represent a unique model of animal regeneration. After amputation, new animals regenerate from each individual piece of tissue, leading Dalyell to describe them as “immortal under the edge of the knife” in 1814. Planarians also continuously renew their tissues and adapt their size in accordance with nutritional supply. This amazing plasticity relies on the presence of a population of adult pluripotent stem cell, the neoblasts. However, little is known about the mechanisms that trigger cell responses, such as cell death and division, which are required to regenerate and maintain tissues and organs in response to injury or nutritional challenge. Here, we show that JNK acts as a hub in the coordination of these events. Specifically in response to tissue loss, JNK modulates the expression of wound-related genes, induces the elimination of unnecessary cells by apoptotic cell death and controls cell division in neoblasts. Loss of JNK function results in the deregulation of these processes and prevents regeneration. Moreover, we demonstrate that JNK-dependent apoptosis is crucial to generate proportioned organisms during tissue turnover. Our findings reveal a central mechanism in planarians that senses tissue loss and translates this information into cellular responses leading to regeneration and tissue renewal.
PMCID: PMC4055413  PMID: 24922054
13.  Planarians as a Model to Assess In Vivo the Role of Matrix Metalloproteinase Genes during Homeostasis and Regeneration 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55649.
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are major executors of extracellular matrix remodeling and, consequently, play key roles in the response of cells to their microenvironment. The experimentally accessible stem cell population and the robust regenerative capabilities of planarians offer an ideal model to study how modulation of the proteolytic system in the extracellular environment affects cell behavior in vivo. Genome-wide identification of Schmidtea mediterranea MMPs reveals that planarians possess four mmp-like genes. Two of them (mmp1 and mmp2) are strongly expressed in a subset of secretory cells and encode putative matrilysins. The other genes (mt-mmpA and mt-mmpB) are widely expressed in postmitotic cells and appear structurally related to membrane-type MMPs. These genes are conserved in the planarian Dugesia japonica. Here we explore the role of the planarian mmp genes by RNA interference (RNAi) during tissue homeostasis and regeneration. Our analyses identify essential functions for two of them. Following inhibition of mmp1 planarians display dramatic disruption of tissues architecture and significant decrease in cell death. These results suggest that mmp1 controls tissue turnover, modulating survival of postmitotic cells. Unexpectedly, the ability to regenerate is unaffected by mmp1(RNAi). Silencing of mt-mmpA alters tissue integrity and delays blastema growth, without affecting proliferation of stem cells. Our data support the possibility that the activity of this protease modulates cell migration and regulates anoikis, with a consequent pivotal role in tissue homeostasis and regeneration. Our data provide evidence of the involvement of specific MMPs in tissue homeostasis and regeneration and demonstrate that the behavior of planarian stem cells is critically dependent on the microenvironment surrounding these cells. Studying MMPs function in the planarian model provides evidence on how individual proteases work in vivo in adult tissues. These results have high potential to generate significant information for development of regenerative and anti cancer therapies.
PMCID: PMC3566077  PMID: 23405188
14.  On-chip immobilization of planarians for in vivo imaging 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:6388.
Planarians are an important model organism for regeneration and stem cell research. A complete understanding of stem cell and regeneration dynamics in these animals requires time-lapse imaging in vivo, which has been difficult to achieve due to a lack of tissue-specific markers and the strong negative phototaxis of planarians. We have developed the Planarian Immobilization Chip (PIC) for rapid, stable immobilization of planarians for in vivo imaging without injury or biochemical alteration. The chip is easy and inexpensive to fabricate, and worms can be mounted for and removed after imaging within minutes. We show that the PIC enables significantly higher-stability immobilization than can be achieved with standard techniques, allowing for imaging of planarians at sub-cellular resolution in vivo using brightfield and fluorescence microscopy. We validate the performance of the PIC by performing time-lapse imaging of planarian wound closure and sequential imaging over days of head regeneration. We further show that the device can be used to immobilize Hydra, another photophobic regenerative model organism. The simple fabrication, low cost, ease of use, and enhanced specimen stability of the PIC should enable its broad application to in vivo studies of stem cell and regeneration dynamics in planarians and Hydra.
PMCID: PMC4165980  PMID: 25227263
15.  Pharmacological and Functional Genetic Assays to Manipulate Regeneration of the Planarian Dugesia japonica 
Free-living planarian flatworms have a long history of experimental usage owing to their remarkable regenerative abilities1. Small fragments excised from these animals reform the original body plan following regeneration of missing body structures. For example if a 'trunk' fragment is cut from an intact worm, a new 'head' will regenerate anteriorly and a 'tail' will regenerate posteriorly restoring the original 'head-to-tail' polarity of body structures prior to amputation (Figure 1A).
Regeneration is driven by planarian stem cells, known as 'neoblasts' which differentiate into ~30 different cell types during normal body homeostasis and enforced tissue regeneration. This regenerative process is robust and easy to demonstrate. Owing to the dedication of several pioneering labs, many tools and functional genetic methods have now been optimized for this model system. Consequently, considerable recent progress has been made in understanding and manipulating the molecular events underpinning planarian developmental plasticity2-9.
The planarian model system will be of interest to a broad range of scientists. For neuroscientists, the model affords the opportunity to study the regeneration of an entire nervous system, rather than simply the regrowth/repair of single nerve cell process that typically are the focus of study in many established models. Planarians express a plethora of neurotransmitters10, represent an important system for studying evolution of the central nervous system11, 12 and have behavioral screening potential13, 14.
Regenerative outcomes are amenable to manipulation by pharmacological and genetic apparoaches. For example, drugs can be screened for effects on regeneration simply by placing body fragments in drug-containing solutions at different time points after amputation. The role of individual genes can be studied using knockdown methods (in vivo RNAi), which can be achieved either through cycles of microinjection or by feeding bacterially-expressed dsRNA constructs8, 9, 15. Both approaches can produce visually striking phenotypes at high penetrance- for example, regeneration of bipolar animals16-21. To facilitate adoption of this model and implementation of such methods, we showcase in this video article protocols for pharmacological and genetic assays (in vivo RNAi by feeding) using the planarian Dugesia japonica.
PMCID: PMC3217636  PMID: 21897362
16.  Genome-Wide Analyses Reveal a Role for Peptide Hormones in Planarian Germline Development 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(10):e1000509.
Genomic/peptidomic analyses of the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea identifies >200 neuropeptides and uncovers a conserved neuropeptide required for proper maturation and maintenance of the reproductive system.
Bioactive peptides (i.e., neuropeptides or peptide hormones) represent the largest class of cell-cell signaling molecules in metazoans and are potent regulators of neural and physiological function. In vertebrates, peptide hormones play an integral role in endocrine signaling between the brain and the gonads that controls reproductive development, yet few of these molecules have been shown to influence reproductive development in invertebrates. Here, we define a role for peptide hormones in controlling reproductive physiology of the model flatworm, the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea. Based on our observation that defective neuropeptide processing results in defects in reproductive system development, we employed peptidomic and functional genomic approaches to characterize the planarian peptide hormone complement, identifying 51 prohormone genes and validating 142 peptides biochemically. Comprehensive in situ hybridization analyses of prohormone gene expression revealed the unanticipated complexity of the flatworm nervous system and identified a prohormone specifically expressed in the nervous system of sexually reproducing planarians. We show that this member of the neuropeptide Y superfamily is required for the maintenance of mature reproductive organs and differentiated germ cells in the testes. Additionally, comparative analyses of our biochemically validated prohormones with the genomes of the parasitic flatworms Schistosoma mansoni and Schistosoma japonicum identified new schistosome prohormones and validated half of all predicted peptide-encoding genes in these parasites. These studies describe the peptide hormone complement of a flatworm on a genome-wide scale and reveal a previously uncharacterized role for peptide hormones in flatworm reproduction. Furthermore, they suggest new opportunities for using planarians as free-living models for understanding the reproductive biology of flatworm parasites.
Author Summary
Flatworms cause diseases affecting hundreds of millions of people, so understanding what influences their reproductive activity is of fundamental importance. Neurally derived signals have been suggested to coordinate sexual reproduction in free-living flatworms, yet the neuroendocrine signaling repertoire has not been characterized comprehensively for any flatworm. Neuropeptides are a large diverse group of cell-cell signaling molecules and play many roles in vertebrate reproductive development; however, little is known about their function in reproductive development among invertebrates. Here we use biochemical and bioinformatic techniques to identify bioactive peptides in the genome of the planarian flatworm Schmidtea mediterranea and identify 51 genes encoding >200 peptides. Analysis of these genes in both sexual and asexual strains of S. mediterranea identified a neuropeptide Y superfamily member as important for the normal development and maintenance of the planarian reproductive system. We suggest that understanding peptide hormone function in planarian reproduction could have practical implications in the treatment of parasitic flatworms.
PMCID: PMC2953531  PMID: 20967238
17.  Smed454 dataset: unravelling the transcriptome of Schmidtea mediterranea 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:731.
Freshwater planarians are an attractive model for regeneration and stem cell research and have become a promising tool in the field of regenerative medicine. With the availability of a sequenced planarian genome, the recent application of modern genetic and high-throughput tools has resulted in revitalized interest in these animals, long known for their amazing regenerative capabilities, which enable them to regrow even a new head after decapitation. However, a detailed description of the planarian transcriptome is essential for future investigation into regenerative processes using planarians as a model system.
In order to complement and improve existing gene annotations, we used a 454 pyrosequencing approach to analyze the transcriptome of the planarian species Schmidtea mediterranea Altogether, 598,435 454-sequencing reads, with an average length of 327 bp, were assembled together with the ~10,000 sequences of the S. mediterranea UniGene set using different similarity cutoffs. The assembly was then mapped onto the current genome data. Remarkably, our Smed454 dataset contains more than 3 million novel transcribed nucleotides sequenced for the first time. A descriptive analysis of planarian splice sites was conducted on those Smed454 contigs that mapped univocally to the current genome assembly. Sequence analysis allowed us to identify genes encoding putative proteins with defined structural properties, such as transmembrane domains. Moreover, we annotated the Smed454 dataset using Gene Ontology, and identified putative homologues of several gene families that may play a key role during regeneration, such as neurotransmitter and hormone receptors, homeobox-containing genes, and genes related to eye function.
We report the first planarian transcript dataset, Smed454, as an open resource tool that can be accessed via a web interface. Smed454 contains significant novel sequence information about most expressed genes of S. mediterranea. Analysis of the annotated data promises to contribute to identification of gene families poorly characterized at a functional level. The Smed454 transcriptome data will assist in the molecular characterization of S. mediterranea as a model organism, which will be useful to a broad scientific community.
PMCID: PMC3022928  PMID: 21194483
18.  Deciphering the molecular machinery of stem cells: a look at the neoblast gene expression profile 
Genome Biology  2007;8(4):R62.
Comparison of the gene-expression profiles of planarians in which all adult pluripotent stem cells (neoblasts) were eliminated and wild-type worms identified a putative neoblast-restricted gene set. This included many genes involved in chromatin modeling and RNA metabolism, suggesting that epigenetic modifications and post-transcriptional regulation are important for neoblast regulation.
Mammalian stem cells are difficult to access experimentally; model systems that can regenerate offer an alternative way to characterize stem cell related genes. Planarian regeneration depends on adult pluripotent stem cells - the neoblasts. These cells can be selectively destroyed using X-rays, enabling comparison of organisms lacking stem cells with wild-type worms.
Using a genomic approach we produced an oligonucleotide microarray chip (the Dj600 chip), which was designed using selected planarian gene sequences. Using this chip, we compared planarians treated with high doses of X-rays (which eliminates all neoblasts) with wild-type worms, which led to identification of a set of putatively neoblast-restricted genes. Most of these genes are involved in chromatin modeling and RNA metabolism, suggesting that epigenetic modifications and post-transcriptional regulation are pivotal in neoblast regulation. Comparing planarians treated with low doses of X-rays (after which some radiotolerant neoblasts re-populate the planarian body) with specimens irradiated with high doses and unirradiated control worms, we identified a group of genes that were upregulated as a consequence of low-dose X-ray treatment. Most of these genes encode proteins that are known to regulate the balance between death and survival of the cell; our results thus suggest that genetic programs that control neoblast cytoprotection, proliferation, and migration are activated by low-dose X-rays.
The broad differentiation potential of planarian neoblasts is unparalleled by any adult stem cells in the animal kingdom. In addition to our validation of the Dj600 chip as a valuable platform, our work contributes to elucidating the molecular mechanisms that regulate the self-renewal and differentiation of neoblasts.
PMCID: PMC1896013  PMID: 17445279
19.  Gradients in Planarian Regeneration and Homeostasis 
Planarian regeneration was one of the first models in which the gradient concept was developed. Morphological studies based on the analysis of the regeneration rates of planarian fragments from different body regions, the generation of heteromorphoses, and experiments of tissue transplantation led T.H. Morgan (1901) and C.M Child (1911) to postulate different kinds of gradients responsible for the regenerative process in these highly plastic animals. However, after a century of research, the role of morphogens in planarian regeneration has yet to be demonstrated. This may change soon, as the sequencing of the planarian genome and the possibility of performing gene functional analysis by RNA interference (RNAi) have led to the isolation of elements of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP), Wnt, and fibroblast growth factor (FGF) pathways that control patterning and axial polarity during planarian regeneration and homeostasis. Here, we discuss whether the actions of these molecules could be based on morphogenetic gradients.
Planarians can completely regenerate themselves from small fragments. They also constantly readjust their body proportions. Gradients of signaling molecules, such as Wnt and BMPs, may control both processes.
PMCID: PMC2827897  PMID: 20182600
20.  The CCR4-NOT Complex Mediates Deadenylation and Degradation of Stem Cell mRNAs and Promotes Planarian Stem Cell Differentiation 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1004003.
Post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms are of fundamental importance to form robust genetic networks, but their roles in stem cell pluripotency remain poorly understood. Here, we use freshwater planarians as a model system to investigate this and uncover a role for CCR4-NOT mediated deadenylation of mRNAs in stem cell differentiation. Planarian adult stem cells, the so-called neoblasts, drive the almost unlimited regenerative capabilities of planarians and allow their ongoing homeostatic tissue turnover. While many genes have been demonstrated to be required for these processes, currently almost no mechanistic insight is available into their regulation. We show that knockdown of planarian Not1, the CCR4-NOT deadenylating complex scaffolding subunit, abrogates regeneration and normal homeostasis. This abrogation is primarily due to severe impairment of their differentiation potential. We describe a stem cell specific increase in the mRNA levels of key neoblast genes after Smed-not1 knock down, consistent with a role of the CCR4-NOT complex in degradation of neoblast mRNAs upon the onset of differentiation. We also observe a stem cell specific increase in the frequency of longer poly(A) tails in these same mRNAs, showing that stem cells after Smed-not1 knock down fail to differentiate as they accumulate populations of transcripts with longer poly(A) tails. As other transcripts are unaffected our data hint at a targeted regulation of these key stem cell mRNAs by post-transcriptional regulators such as RNA-binding proteins or microRNAs. Together, our results show that the CCR4-NOT complex is crucial for stem cell differentiation and controls stem cell-specific degradation of mRNAs, thus providing clear mechanistic insight into this aspect of neoblast biology.
Author Summary
Although transcriptional regulation in stem cells is a very active subject, much less is known about how post-transcriptional mechanisms of gene expression affect stem cells. Here, we use freshwater planarians in order to address this question. Planarians have a striking regenerative capacity driven by a population of pluripotent stem cells, the neoblasts. Control of both proliferation and differentiation is thought to rely heavily on post-transcriptional mechanisms, but their precise role is unknown. Poly(A) tail length regulation is an important mechanism of post-transcriptional control of gene expression as changes can be very rapid, and longer poly(A) tails are linked to increased mRNA stability and translational activity. We investigated the role of the CCR4-NOT complex, the major deadenylating complex in eukaryotes, by knocking down its main scaffolding subunit called Not1. Neoblasts in knock down animals are unable to differentiate and accumulate mRNAs with longer poly(A) tails. Our results show that the CCR4-NOT complex is needed for the targeted degradation of specific mRNAs expressed in stem cells, and the failure of this process likely prevents neoblasts from differentiating. These results reveal a new functional aspect of the CCR4-NOT complex and offer a mechanistic insight into the regulation of planarian stem cells.
PMCID: PMC3868585  PMID: 24367277
21.  The use of lectins as markers for differentiated secretory cells in planarians 
Freshwater planarians have reemerged as excellent models to investigate mechanisms underlying regeneration. The introduction of molecular tools has facilitated the study of planarians, but cell- and tissue-specific markers are still needed to examine differentiation of most cell types. Here we report the utility of fluorescent lectin-conjugates to label tissues in the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea. We show that 16 lectin-conjugates stain planarian cells or tissues; 13 primarily label the secretory cells, their cytoplasmic projections, and terminal pores. Thus, we examined regeneration of the secretory system using lectin markers and functionally characterized two genes expressed in the secretory cells: marginal adhesive gland-1 (mag-1) and Smed-reticulocalbin1 (Smed-rcn1). RNAi knockdown of these genes caused a dramatic reduction of secretory cell lectin staining, suggesting a role for mag-1 and Smed-rcn1 in secretory cell differentiation. Our results provide new insights into planarian secretory system regeneration and add new markers for labeling several planarian tissues.
PMCID: PMC3004010  PMID: 20865784
Planarian; Schmidtea mediterranea; lectin; regeneration; Platyhelminthes; flatworms
22.  Planarians Sense Simulated Microgravity and Hypergravity 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:679672.
Planarians are flatworms, which belong to the phylum Platyhelminthes. They have been a classical subject of study due to their amazing regenerative ability, which relies on the existence of adult totipotent stem cells. Nowadays they are an emerging model system in the field of developmental, regenerative, and stem cell biology. In this study we analyze the effect of a simulated microgravity and a hypergravity environment during the process of planarian regeneration and embryogenesis. We demonstrate that simulated microgravity by means of the random positioning machine (RPM) set at a speed of 60 °/s but not at 10 °/s produces the dead of planarians. Under hypergravity of 3 g and 4 g in a large diameter centrifuge (LDC) planarians can regenerate missing tissues, although a decrease in the proliferation rate is observed. Under 8 g hypergravity small planarian fragments are not able to regenerate. Moreover, we found an effect of gravity alterations in the rate of planarian scission, which is its asexual mode of reproduction. No apparent effects of altered gravity were found during the embryonic development.
PMCID: PMC4182696  PMID: 25309918
23.  Optical coherence tomography: A new strategy to image planarian regeneration 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:6316.
The planarian is widely used as a model for studying tissue regeneration. In this study, we used optical coherence tomography (OCT) for the real-time, high-resolution imaging of planarian tissue regeneration. Five planaria were sliced transversely to produce 5 head and 5 tail fragments. During a 2-week regeneration period, OCT images of the planaria were acquired to analyze the signal attenuation rates, intensity ratios, and image texture features (including contrast, correlation, homogeneity, energy, and entropy) to compare the primitive and regenerated tissues. In the head and tail fragments, the signal attenuation rates of the regenerated fragments decreased from −0.2 dB/μm to −0.05 dB/μm, between Day 1 and Day 6, and then increased to −0.2 dB/μm on Day 14. The intensity ratios decreased to approximately 0.8 on Day 6, and increased to between 0.8 and 0.9 on Day 14. The texture parameters of contrast, correlation, and homogeneity exhibited trends similar to the signal attenuation rates and intensity ratios during the planarian regeneration. The proposed OCT parameters might provide biological information regarding cell apoptosis and the formation of a mass of new cells during planarian regeneration. Therefore, OCT imaging is a potentially effective method for planarian studies.
PMCID: PMC4159628  PMID: 25204535
24.  Epigenetic regulation of planarian stem cells by the SET1/MLL family of histone methyltransferases 
Epigenetics  2013;8(1):79-91.
Chromatin regulation is a fundamental mechanism underlying stem cell pluripotency, differentiation, and the establishment of cell type-specific gene expression profiles. To examine the role of chromatin regulation in stem cells in vivo, we study regeneration in the freshwater planarian Schmidtea mediterranea. These animals possess a high concentration of pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of restoring any damaged or lost tissues after injury or amputation. Here, we identify the S. mediterranea homologs of the SET1/MLL family of histone methyltransferases and COMPASS and COMPASS-like complex proteins and investigate their role in stem cell function during regeneration. We identified six S. mediterranea homologs of the SET1/MLL family (set1, mll1/2, trr-1, trr-2, mll5–1 and mll5–2), characterized their patterns of expression in the animal, and examined their function by RNAi. All members of this family are expressed in the stem cell population and differentiated tissues. We show that set1, mll1/2, trr-1, and mll5–2 are required for regeneration and that set1, trr-1 and mll5–2 play roles in the regulation of mitosis. Most notably, knockdown of the planarian set1 homolog leads to stem cell depletion. A subset of planarian homologs of COMPASS and COMPASS-like complex proteins are also expressed in stem cells and implicated in regeneration, but the knockdown phenotypes suggest that some complex members also function in other aspects of planarian biology. This work characterizes the function of the SET1/MLL family in the context of planarian regeneration and provides insight into the role of these enzymes in adult stem cell regulation in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3549883  PMID: 23235145
stem cells; regeneration; neoblasts; planarian; SET1; MLL; COMPASS; histone methyltransferase; H3K4
25.  Regeneration and maintenance of the planarian midline is regulated by a slit orthologue 
Developmental biology  2007;307(2):394-406.
Several families of evolutionarily conserved axon guidance cues orchestrate the precise wiring of the nervous system during embryonic development. The remarkable plasticity of freshwater planarians provides the opportunity to study these molecules in the context of neural regeneration and maintenance. Here we characterize a homologue of the Slit family of guidance cues from the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea. Smed-slit is expressed along the planarian midline, in both dorsal and ventral domains. RNA interference targeting Smed-slit results in the collapse of many newly regenerated tissues at the midline; these include the cephalic ganglia, ventral nerve cords, photoreceptors, and the posterior digestive system. Surprisingly, Smed-slit RNAi knockdown animals also develop morphologically distinguishable, ectopic neural structures near the midline in uninjured regions of intact and regenerating planarians. These results suggest that Smed-slit acts not only as a repulsive cue required for proper midline formation during regeneration but that it may also act to regulate the behavior of neural precursors at the midline in intact planarians.
PMCID: PMC2148499  PMID: 17553481
planarian; Schmidtea mediterranea; Slit; axon guidance; midline; regeneration; neural differentiation

Results 1-25 (69941)