Do salamanders hold the key to limb regeneration?

This is an image of a salamander (the newt Notophthalmus viridescens). Credit: University College London

The secret of how salamanders successfully regrow body parts is being unravelled by University College London researchers in a bid to apply it to humans.

For the first time, researchers have found that the 'ERK pathway' must be constantly active for salamander cells to be reprogrammed, and hence able to contribute to the regeneration of different .

The team identified a key difference between the activity of this pathway in and mammals, which helps us to understand why humans can't regrow limbs and sheds light on how regeneration of human cells can be improved.

The study published in Stem Cell Reports today, demonstrates that the ERK pathway is not fully active in , but when forced to be constantly active, gives the cells more potential for reprogramming and regeneration. This could help researchers better understand diseases and design new therapies.

Lead researcher on the study, Dr Max Yun (UCL Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology) said: "While humans have limited regenerative abilities, other organisms, such as the salamander, are able to regenerate an impressive repertoire of complex structures including parts of their hearts, eyes, spinal cord, tails, and they are the only adult vertebrates able to regenerate full limbs.

We're thrilled to have found a critical molecular pathway, the ERK pathway, that determines whether an adult cell is able to be reprogrammed and help the regeneration processes. Manipulating this mechanism could contribute to therapies directed at enhancing regenerative potential of ."

Limb regeneration: Do salamanders hold the key?
This is an image of differentiated salamander muscle cells re-entering the cell cycle, a crucial step for regeneration/reprogramming (cell nuclei -blue- that have re-entered the cell cycle are in green, while red labels differentiated muscle cells). Credit: University College London

The ERK pathway is a way for proteins to communicate a signal from the surface of a cell to the nucleus which contains the cell's genetic material. Further research will focus on understanding how this important pathway is regulated during limb , and which other molecules are involved in the process.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

One step closer to cell reprogramming

May 06, 2014

In 2012, John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamakana were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering that adult cells can be reprogrammed into pluripotent ones (iPS); the cells obtained are capable of behaving ...

Do salamanders hold the solution to regeneration?

May 20, 2013

Salamanders' immune systems are key to their remarkable ability to regrow limbs, and could also underpin their ability to regenerate spinal cords, brain tissue and even parts of their hearts, scientists have ...

Stem cells aid heart regeneration in salamanders

Apr 29, 2014

Imagine filling a hole in your heart by regrowing the tissue. While that possibility is still being explored in people, it is a reality in salamanders. A recent discovery that newt hearts can regenerate may ...

Heading for regeneration

Jul 24, 2013

The rabbit can't do it, neither can a frog, but zebrafish and axolotls can and flatworms are true masters of the craft: Regeneration. Why some animals can re-grow lost body parts or organs while others cannot ...

Recommended for you

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
not rated yet Jun 19, 2014
Do salamanders hold the key to limb regeneration?

They do for salamanders
eric_in_chicago
not rated yet Jun 19, 2014
Have they not heard of the mouse?

http://phys.org/n...ies.html