Tadpole’s tail holds lessons for healing

Scientists at The University of Manchester have made a surprising finding after studying how tadpoles re-grow their tails which could have big implications for research into human healing and regeneration.

Tadpoles re-growing their tails within a week of losing them hold vital lessons for human healing and regeneration, according to researchers.

The discovery made by Enrique Amaya, professor of life sciences and his team at The University of Manchester’s Healing Foundation Centre, potentially paves the way to better therapies for regeneration and healing.

In an earlier study, Amaya’s group identified which genes were activated during tail regeneration, particularly those linked to the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), believed to be harmful to cells, the journal Nature Cell Biology reports.

Talking about the research Professor Amaya says: “We were very surprised to find these high levels of ROS during tail regeneration. Traditionally, ROS have been thought to have a negative impact on cells. But in this case they seemed to be having a positive impact on tail re-growth.”

To assess how vital the presence of ROS are in the regeneration process, Professor Amaya’s team limited ROS production using two methods. The first was by using chemicals, including an antioxidant, and the second was by removing a gene responsible for ROS production. In both cases the regeneration process was inhibited and the tadpole tail did not grow back.

Professor Amaya says: “When we decreased ROS levels, tissue growth and regeneration failed to occur. Our research suggests that ROS are essential to initiate and sustain the regeneration response. We also found that ROS production is essential to activate Wnt signalling, which has been implicated in essentially every studied regeneration system, including those found in humans. It was also striking that our study showed that antioxidants had such a negative impact on tissue regrowth, as we are often told that antioxidants should be beneficial to health.”

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The publication of Amaya’s study comes just days after a paper from the Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, James Watson, who has suggested antioxidants could be harmful to people in the later stages of cancer.

Reference:Amputation-induced reactive oxygen species are required for successful Xenopus tadpole tail regeneration, Nature Cell Biology,January 2013, DOI: 10.1038/ncb2659

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