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J Comp Neurol. 1999 Apr 19;406(4):461-75.

Regeneration of the enteric nervous system in the sea cucumber Holothuria glaberrima.

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Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, 00931, USA.


Among higher metazoans, echinoderms exhibit the most impressive capacity for regeneration. Holothurians, or sea cucumbers, respond to adverse stimuli by autotomizing and ejecting their visceral organs, which are then regenerated. Neuronal fibers and cell bodies are present within the viscera, but previous regeneration studies have not accounted for the nervous component. We used light microscopic immunocytochemistry and ultrastructural studies to describe the regeneration of the enteric nervous system in the sea cucumber Holothuria glaberrima. This study provides evidence that the enteric nervous system of this echinoderm regenerates after evisceration and that in 3-5 weeks the regenerated system is virtually identical to that of noneviscerated animals. The regeneration of the enteric nervous system occurs parallel to the regeneration of other organ components. Nerve fibers and cells are observed within the mesenterial thickenings that give rise to the new intestine and within the internal connective tissue prior to lumen formation. We also used bromodeoxyuridine incorporation to show that proliferation of the neuronal population occurs in the regenerating intestine. The regeneration of the nervous system commands high interest because members of the closely related phylum Chordata either lack or have a very limited capacity to regenerate their nervous system. Thus, holothurians provide a model system to study enteric nervous system regeneration in deuterostomes.

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