Regeneration of the Vertebrate Tail


Some vertebrates can regenerate their tail, a complex process which involves recruitment and proliferation of progenitor cells from the stump and their subsequent differentiation into the various tissues of the tail. Regeneration is observed only in tails that contain the spinal cord and their ability to regenerate varies among species and with age. Adult tailed amphibians (urodeles) have the most striking regenerative capability and frogs (anurans) can regenerate at larval stages. The spinal cord provides neural progenitor cells from which a new spinal cord will form and in urodeles has a key role in differentiation and morphogenesis of other tail tissues. In anuran tadpoles tail regeneration requires also the presence of the notochord to proceed. Tail regeneration occurs also in lizards, though less faithfully than in urodeles. Recent establishment of effective tracking techniques in amphibians and cloning of their genome is starting to fill the gap in our knowledge of the mechanistic control of tail regeneration.

Key Concepts:

  • The presence of the nervous system is crucial to tail regeneration.

  • Caudal autotomy is associated with regenerative ability in lizards but not in urodeles.

  • Paedomorphosis does not appear to be causally associated with regenerative ability, but continuous growth throughout adulthood correlates with high regenerative capability of all tissue tails including the spinal cord.

  • Neural progenitor cells for regeneration in amphibians maintain an intermediate phenotype between radial glia and ependyma and are likely to be multipotent.

  • Cells in regenerating tails largely maintain their identity and position of origin.

  • Redeployment of certain developmental mechanisms underlies patterning in the regenerating tail.

Keywords: tail; spinal cord; amphibian; lizard; urodeles; anurans

Figure 1.

Summary of tail regeneration capability through vertebrate phylogenesis. *Limited knowledge is available concerning tail regeneration in adult lamprey.

Figure 2.

Normal and regenerating tail. (a) Schematic longitudinal view of the stump and blastema of the regenerating adult urodele tail. The numbers and arrows indicate the level of the histological cross‐sections stained with haematoxylin and eosin shown in (b): 1, normal tail; 2, section through the tail blastema where cartilage condensation (c) is in progress; 3, section close to the tip of the blastema where only the ependymal tube and undifferentiated mesenchymal cells are present.

Figure 3.

Schematic representation of an ependymal cell in the spinal cord of adult urodeles.

Figure 4.

Cartoon summarising the profile of intermediate filaments expression in radial glia of human and urodele developing spinal cords and ependymoglia of normal adult tails in relation to their expression in the regenerating ependymal tube following tail amputation. The phenotypic conversion to the radial glia phenotype during spinal cord regeneration is indicated by the arrow. It should be noted that the profile of intermediate filaments described in urodeles radial glia parallels that of early radial glia in the developing human spinal cord.



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Further Reading

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Slack JMW (2007) The spark of life: electricity and regeneration. Science's STKE 2007(405): pe54.

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Ferretti, Patrizia(Jan 2011) Regeneration of the Vertebrate Tail. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001101.pub2]