Int. J. Dev. Biol. 62: 537 - 550 (2018)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.180042es
© UPV/EHU Press

Rebuilding a planarian: from early signaling to final shape

Francesc Cebrià, Teresa Adell and Emili Saló*

Departament de Genètica, Microbiologia i Estadística,Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona and Institut de Biomedicina de la Universitat de Barcelona (IBUB), Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain

ABSTRACT Why some animals can regenerate and others not has fascinated biologists since the first examples of regeneration were reported. Although many animal phyla include species with some regenerative ability, mainly restricted to particular cell types or tissues, there are some other species capable of regenerating complex structures, such as the vertebrate limb and heart. More remarkably, there are some examples of animals that can regenerate the whole body from a tiny piece of them. Understanding how regeneration is triggered and achieved in these animals is fundamental not only to understand this fascinating primary biological question, but also because of its implications for the field of regenerative medicine. Here, we discuss one of the models with higher regenerative capabilities: the freshwater planarians. Two key features make planarians an attractive model to study regeneration: the presence of adult pluripotent stem cells and the permanent activation of the morphogenetic mechanisms that instruct cell fate. Here, we revise our current knowledge of key events that lead to successful regeneration including: how heterogeneous is the stem cell population; what are the immediate changes at the gene level after amputation and what triggers the regenerative response; how is axial polarity re-established; how do the different cell types differentiate from lineage-committed progenitors and how is size and organ proportionality controlled. Finally, we point out some open questions that the field needs to address in the near future.


planarian, regeneration, neoblast, signaling, morphogenesis, cell differentiation

*Corresponding author e-mail: