Stem cells in a basal bilaterian
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In Platyhelminthes, totipotent stem cells (neoblasts) are supposed to be the only dividing cells. They are responsible for the renewal of all cell types during development, growth, and regeneration, a unique situation in the animal kingdom. In order to further characterize these cells, we have applied two immunocytochemical markers to detect neoblasts in different stages of the cell cycle in the acoel flatworm Convolutriloba longifissura: (1) the thymidine analog 5′-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) to identify cells in S-phase, and (2) an antibody to phosphorylated histone H3 to locate mitosis. BrdU pulse-chase experiments were carried out to follow differentiation of neoblasts. We demonstrate the differentation into four labeled, differentiated cell types. S-phase cells and mitotic cells showed a homogenous distribution pattern throughout the body of C. longifissura. Two different types of S-phase cells could be distinguished immunocytochemically by their pattern of incorporated BrdU in the nuclei. Transmission electron microscopy was used to study ultrastructural characters of neoblasts and revealed two different stages in maturation of neoblasts, each with a characteristic organization of heterochromatin. The stem-cell pool of C. longifissura is an important prerequisite for the extraordinary mode of asexual reproduction and the high capacity of regeneration. A comparison of the stem-cell pool in Acoela and higher platyhelminth species can provide evidence for the phylogenetic relationships of these taxa.
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