Salamander Study Brings Us One Step Closer to Human Limb Regeneration
Are salamanders the key to human limb regeneration? Researchers at University College London have identified a specific molecular pathway that differs in salamanders and mammals that is crucial for the ability to regenerate limbs.
Humans have limited regenerative abilities, but other animals such as the salamander have a much wider range of abilities. Salamanders in particular are the only vertebrates that can grow entire limbs as adults. In order to regenerate lost limbs, salamanders' cells must be reprogrammed, a task that is possible as a result of the molecular pathway dubbed "ERK." This pathway allows proteins to send signals from the surface of cells to the genetic material in the nucleus, allowing the cell to be reprogrammed. The ERK pathway must be active at all times in order to regrow body parts. ERK pathways are constantly active in salamanders, but are not fully active in humans. The UCL research team's study demonstrated that the pathway can be forced to become perpetually active in mammals, which, in turn, increases their regenerative abilities.
Lead researcher on the study, Dr Max Yun, said: "We're thrilled to have found a critical molecular pathway, the ERK pathway, that determines whether an adult cell is able to be reprogrammed and help the regeneration processes. Manipulating this mechanism could contribute to therapies directed at enhancing regenerative potential of human cells."
This research, and the technology that may result, could have an unlimited number of clinical applications. Works of science fiction, such as the television show Heroes," have gone so far as to imagine a regenerative ability that allows a human to heal almost any injury instantaneously.