Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers demonstrate with flatworms and zebrafish: any injury can initiate tissue regeneration


Researchers at the Cells-in-Motion Cluster of Excellence have gained new insights into the mechanisms behind regenerative processes. In flatworms and zebrafish, even small wounds can initiate complete regeneration of heads and bones. The study has been published in “Nature Communications”.

Some animals are naturally capable of something that remains merely an aspiration for humans – restoring lost body parts. In order to understand the mechanisms behind regenerative programs, researchers are studying such animals and have observed two types of healing processes.

Planarian flatworms after an amputation of the head. When tissue was removed again, the head regenerated completely within two weeks (centre). Likewise after an incision (right).

S. Owlarn et al./Nature Communications

Dr. Kerstin Bartscherer (l.) and Dr. Suthira Owlarn

MPI Münster, C. Key

Some wounds, for example a scratch in the skin, resolve by wound healing. However, when pieces of tissue, or even whole limbs, are lost, the organism initiates complicated processes to restore the missing part of the body in its entirety. Previously, it was widely assumed that signals for complete regeneration were only activated when tissue was actually missing.

Surprisingly, researchers from Münster and Ulm have now discovered that, in flatworms and zebrafish, all types of wounds trigger signals that can initiate the formation of whole tissues, such as heads in planarians and bones in fish. Both of these highly regenerative animals started the regenerative programme in response to every injury, regardless of severity.

However, regeneration only continued whenever tissue was missing. The researchers identified a cellular signalling pathway that informs the animals about whether tissue has been lost. “Our study raises the possibility that the wound healing response common to many animals, and potentially humans, could be redirected to regenerative outcomes,” says Dr. Kerstin Bartscherer, who is a team leader both at the Cells-in-Motion Cluster of Excellence at the University of Münster and at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster. “Providing wounded areas with the appropriate missing-tissue signals,” she says, “might therefore be a promising avenue for regenerative medicine.” The study has been published in “Nature Communications”.

The detailed story:

Planarian flatworms are of great interest to regenerative biologists because they have the unique ability to restore any part of their body – even the brain – in less than two weeks. Among vertebrates, the zebrafish is able to replace various severely damaged tissues and organs, including the heart and the tail fin. All animals with regenerative abilities must decide whether it is necessary to activate a regeneration response. “A long-standing fundamental question in the field is how these animals ‘know’ when to regenerate,” says lead author Dr. Suthira Owlarn, a biologist in Kerstin Bartscherer’s team.

In order to find out whether different wounds emit different signals, the researchers developed a new assay with which this question could be answered. They first manipulated the ability of flatworms to initiate the regeneration programme by inhibiting the activation of Extracellular Regulated Kinase (ERK). This enzyme mediates an important signalling pathway, which regulates various cellular processes, including regeneration initiation as they found in their study: after amputation of the heads of flatworms, the wound healed but no new tissues were formed – so these animals remained headless.

Strikingly, when the researchers amputated tissue from these fragments again, the ERK pathway was re-activated and the fragments regenerated their missing head. Surprisingly, when the researchers made incisions, which normally lead to a healing rather than a regeneration response, these injuries also triggered head regeneration. “This shows that both wound types have regeneration-inducing power,” says Suthira Owlarn. “It also means all injuries can start the regeneration programme, but the programme is only completed if the injury is in an area where tissue is missing.”

In order to test whether these results can also be transferred to other living organisms, the team worked together with researchers around Prof. Gilbert Weidinger at the University of Ulm, who carried out similar experiments on zebrafish. The researchers made genetic modifications to the fish by ‘switching off’ their ability to initiate regeneration. The consequence, as with the flatworms, was that after the researchers had amputated the fishes’ fins, they healed the wound but failed to regenerate their fins and remained finless.

They then inflicted simple skin injuries that do not normally induce regeneration and found that these injuries were able to trigger complete restoration in the fin fragments, including the bones. This confirmed what the researchers had found in planarians: regeneration is started generically after all wounds but the process is only completed when tissue is missing.

How does an animal know whether tissue is missing? To find that out, the researchers directed their attention to the beta-catenin protein, an activator of the Wnt signalling pathway. It has previously been shown that without this protein, animals erroneously form heads at all amputation sites. In the current work, the researchers now show that simple incisions made flatworms with altered Wnt signaling mistakenly grow heads at these injury sites. “This signalling pathway is therefore likely responsible for communicating tissue absence,” says Kerstin Bartscherer.

Whether the results of this basic research will lead to any potential applications cannot be predicted at the present time.

The study received funding from the Max Planck Society, the German Research Foundation and the European Research Council.

Original publication:

Owlarn S, Klenner F, Schmidt D, Rabert F, Tomasso A, Reuter H, Mulaw MA, Moritz S, Gentile L, Weidinger G, Bartscherer K. Generic wound signals initiate regeneration in missing-tissue contexts. Nat Commun 2017;8: 2282; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02338-x.

Media contact:

Svenja Ronge
Media Relations Manager
Tel.: +49 251 83-49310

Weitere Informationen: Dr. Kerstin Bartscherer

Svenja Ronge | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Zebrafish fragments injuries injury pathway signalling pathway tissue regeneration

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>