Postembryonic Axis Formation in Planarians

  • Yoshihiko UmesonoEmail author
Part of the Diversity and Commonality in Animals book series (DCA)


Planarians have a long history of attracting many biologists for the study of regeneration, one of the most intriguing phenomena in postembryonic development. Planarian regeneration absolutely depends on somatic pluripotent stem cells, termed neoblasts, which are distributed throughout the body. Recent progress in applying molecular and genetic approaches, including RNA interference, has provided increasing knowledge about cellular and molecular dynamics in planarian regeneration. Using the freshwater planarian Dugesia japonica as a model, we revealed that interplay between the anterior extracellular signal–regulated kinase (ERK) and posterior ß-catenin signaling pathways can account for the reconstruction of a complete head-to-tail axis via differentiation of neoblasts during regeneration. Notably, our data suggest that these two signals form opposing activity gradients along the anteroposterior axis. Surprisingly, Thomas Hunt Morgan, one of the great early investigators of planarian regeneration, predicted the existence of these two opposing morphogenetic gradients more than a century ago. Thus, our study provides, for the first time, a basic molecular framework for Morgan’s hypothesis in planarian regeneration. Furthermore, our data suggest that the balance between the anterior ERK signaling and posterior ß-catenin signaling varies among planarian species, resulting in drastic differences in the head-regenerative capacity of their tail fragments.


Planarian Regeneration Pluripotent stem cells ERK ß-catenin Polarity Gradient RNAi 



I thank Dr. Labib Rouhana and Dr. Kazuya Kobayashi for their critical comments and suggestions on the manuscript, and also Dr. Elizabeth Nakajima for her critical reading of the manuscript. This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas to Y.U. (22124004) and the Naito Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Life ScienceUniversity of HyogoAko-gunJapan

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