Cells keep a memory of their tissue origin during axolotl limb regeneration

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During limb regeneration adult tissue is converted into a zone of undifferentiated progenitors called the blastema that reforms the diverse tissues of the limb. Previous experiments have led to wide acceptance that limb tissues dedifferentiate to form pluripotent cells. Here we have reexamined this question using an integrated GFP transgene to track the major limb tissues during limb regeneration in the salamander Ambystoma mexicanum (the axolotl). Surprisingly, we find that each tissue produces progenitor cells with restricted potential. Therefore, the blastema is a heterogeneous collection of restricted progenitor cells. On the basis of these findings, we further demonstrate that positional identity is a cell-type-specific property of blastema cells, in which cartilage-derived blastema cells harbour positional identity but Schwann-derived cells do not. Our results show that the complex phenomenon of limb regeneration can be achieved without complete dedifferentiation to a pluripotent state, a conclusion with important implications for regenerative medicine.

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Figure 1: Dermis does not make muscle but makes cartilage and tendons.
Figure 2: Cartilage cells do not make muscle.
Figure 3: Muscle does not make cartilage or epidermis.
Figure 4: Schwann cells give rise to Schwann cells and do not form cartilage even during nerve-rescue of irradiated limbs.
Figure 5: Schwann cell-derived blastema cells do not possess proximo-distal positional identity but cartilage-derived cells do.


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This work was supported by grants from the Volkswagen Foundation I/78 766; DFG SFB655, SPP1109, SPP 1356, the BMBF Biofutures program, funds from the Max Planck Institute, and the Center of Regenerative Therapies, Dresden. D.K. was a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. We are grateful to K. Agata, H. Tarui, T. Hayashi and M. Saitou for advice on the single-cell PCR technique. We thank I. Nüsslein for assistance on FACS analysis and A. Merseburg for assistance on the nerve rescue experiments. We thank H. Andreas, T. Richter and M. Schuez for technical assistance. We are grateful to L. Rohde, C. Antos, G. Weidinger and A. Tóth for comments on the manuscript.

Author Contributions M.K., D.K. and E.M.T. designed the experiments. M.K., D.K., E.N. and H.H.E. performed embryonic grafting and specificity assessment. M.K. imaged and performed the histological analysis of regenerating limbs, cell counting and single-cell PCR on all experiments. D.K. performed all work related to Schwann cells, with M.M.’s advice. S.K. generated the nucCherry transgenic animals. E.M.T. advised on experiments, examined samples and evaluated data. M.K., D.K. and E.M.T. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Elly M. Tanaka.

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Kragl, M., Knapp, D., Nacu, E. et al. Cells keep a memory of their tissue origin during axolotl limb regeneration. Nature 460, 60–65 (2009) doi:10.1038/nature08152

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