Tadpoles can achieve something that humans may only dream of: pull off a tadpole’s thick tail or a tiny developing leg, and it’ll grow right back — spinal cord, muscles, blood vessels and all. Now researchers have discovered the key regulator of the electrical signal that convinces Xenopus pollywogs to regenerate amputated tails. The results, reported this week in Development, give some researchers hope for new approaches to stimulating tissue regeneration in humans.
Researchers have known for decades that an electrical current is created at the site of regenerating limbs.
To investigate, Michael Levin and his colleagues at the Forsyth Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology in Boston, Massachusetts, sorted through libraries of drug compounds to find ones that prevent tail regeneration but do not interfere with wound healing. One such drug, they found, blocks a molecular pump that transports protons across cell membranes; this kind of proton flow creates a current.
The proton pump could also be used to turn on limb regeneration in older tadpoles that would normally have lost this ability.