Why is limb regeneration possible in amphibians but not in reptiles, birds, and mammals?


*Author for correspondence (e-mail galis@rulsfb.leidenuniv.nl)


SUMMARY The capacity to regenerate limbs is very high in amphibians and practically absent in other tetrapods despite the similarities in developmental pathways and ultimate morphology of tetrapod limbs. We propose that limb regeneration is only possible when the limb develops as a semiautonomous module and is not involved in interactions with transient structures. This hypothesis is based on the following two assumptions: To an important extent, limb development uses the same developmental mechanisms as normal limb development and developmental mechanisms that require interactions with transient structures cannot be recapitulated later. In amniotes limb development is early, shortly after neurulation, and requires inductive interactions with transient structures such as somites. In amphibians limb development is delayed relative to amniotes and has become decoupled from interactions with somites and other transient structures that are no longer present at this stage. The limb develops as a semi-independent module. A comparison of the autonomy and timing of limb development in different vertebrate taxa supports our hypothesis and its assumptions. The data suggest a good correlation between self-organizing and regenerative capacity. Furthermore, they suggest that whatever barriers amphibians overcame in the evolution of metamorphosis, they are the same barriers that need to be overcome to make limb regeneration possible in other taxa.