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Keywords:

  • Hox genes;
  • BMP;
  • regeneration;
  • stem cells

Abstract

Until very recently echinoderm regeneration research and indeed echinoderm research in general has suffered because of the lack of critical mass. In terms of molecular studies of regeneration, echinoderms in particular have lagged behind other groups in this respect. This is in sharp contrast to the major advances achieved with molecular and genetic techniques in the study of embryonic development in echinoderms. The aim of our studies has been to identify genes involved in the process of regeneration and in particular neural regeneration in different echinoderm species. Our survey included the asteroid Asterias rubens and provided evidence for the expression of Hox gene homologues in regenerating radial nerve cords. Present evidence suggests: 1) ArHox1 expression is maintained in intact radial nerve cord and may be upregulated during regeneration. 2) ArHox1 expression may contribute to the dedifferentiation and/or cell proliferation process during epimorphic regeneration. From the crinoid Antedon bifida, we have been successful in cloning a fragment of a BMP2/4 homologue (AnBMP2/4) and analysing its expression during arm regeneration. Here, we discuss the importance of this family of growth factors in several regulatory spheres, including maintaining the identity of pluripotent blastemal cells or as a classic skeletal morphogenic regulator. There is clearly substantial scope for future echinoderm research in the area of molecular biology and certain aspects are discussed in this review. Microsc. Res. Tech. 55:474–485, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.