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The maintenance and regeneration of the planarian excretory system are regulated by EGFR signaling
Jochen C. Rink, Hanh Thi-Kim Vu, Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado


The maintenance of organs and their regeneration in case of injury are crucial to the survival of all animals. High rates of tissue turnover and nearly unlimited regenerative capabilities make planarian flatworms an ideal system with which to investigate these important processes, yet little is known about the cell biology and anatomy of their organs. Here we focus on the planarian excretory system, which consists of internal protonephridial tubules. We find that these assemble into complex branching patterns with a stereotyped succession of cell types along their length. Organ regeneration is likely to originate from a precursor structure arising in the blastema, which undergoes extensive branching morphogenesis. In an RNAi screen of signaling molecules, we identified an EGF receptor (Smed-EGFR-5) as a crucial regulator of branching morphogenesis and maintenance. Overall, our characterization of the planarian protonephridial system establishes a new paradigm for regenerative organogenesis and provides a platform for exploring its functional and evolutionary homologies with vertebrate excretory systems.

  • Accepted June 26, 2011.
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