Sodium Spurs a Tadpole to Regenerate Its Tail

By Andrew Moseman | September 29, 2010 11:59 am

TadpoleTailIf a young tadpole loses its tail, no problem—it can grow a new one. Biologist Michael Levin and his team experimented with this amphibian talent, and they say they found the signal that triggers the regeneration: sodium. If scientists can find the trigger in tadpoles, perhaps someday they could find triggers for other species. Maybe even humans.

By using drugs to prompt a flood of sodium ions into injured nerve cells, biologists from Tufts University were able to regenerate severed tadpole tails — complex appendages containing spinal cord, muscle and other tissue. [LiveScience]

The sodium infusion got tadpoles to regrow lost tails even if scar tissue had already formed over the wound. Conversely, blocking the flow of sodium ions to the nerve cells prevented the regeneration.

One particular [sodium]-importing channel, called NaV1.2, was required for tail regrowth, the team found. NaV1.2 is well-known for its role in brain-cell communication and heart-cell beating, but scientists had no idea it might be important for regeneration. [Science News]

That’s great for tadpoles, but what about humans? Levin points out that we’re not so different: Children, up to age 11 or so, can regrow bits of lost fingertips. Like tadpoles, we lose this ability when we get older.

Levin is bullish for scientists to learn the triggers for this kind of regeneration in other species, believing that someday we could get back in touch with the regenerative ability our bodies knew when we were kids.

“Without re-creating the appendage from scratch, we provide the host organism a signal to do it from scratch,” Levin said. “The use of electrical signals to enhance regeneration is applicable to every species. Any organism knows what shape it should be, and it takes steps to get back to where it used to be.” [LiveScience]

His team’s paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Stem Cell-Powered Worm Doesn’t Age, Can Grow a New Head
DISCOVER: How To Grow a New Limb
DISCOVER: Have We Entered the Stem Cell Era?
DISCOVER: Ontogeny Recapitulated, or, how to make our cells young again

Image: Levin et. al.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Anon

    So basically, increasing the sodium in my diet will give me regenerative superpowers, right?

  • Steve

    Haven’t you wondered why no one in the South (home of the saltiest, fattiest food in history) ever goes more than a couple months being an amputee?

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t diminished regenerative abilities have a plus side in avoiding cancer?

    ~Rhaco

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »