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Int J Dev Biol. 2012;56(1-3):83-91. doi: 10.1387/ijdb.113452cg.

Decreased neoblast progeny and increased cell death during starvation-induced planarian degrowth.

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Department of Developmental Genetics and Gene Control, Centre for Genetics and Genomics, University of Nottingham, Queens Medical Centre, United Kingdom.


The development of a complex multicellular organism requires a careful coordination of growth, cell division, cell differentiation and cell death. All these processes must be under intricate and coordinated control, as they have to be integrated across all tissues. Freshwater planarians are especially plastic, in that they constantly replace somatic tissues from a pool of adult somatic stem cells and continuously undergo growth and degrowth as adult animals in response to nutrient availability. During these processes they appear to maintain perfect scale of tissues and organs. These life history traits make them an ideal model system to study growth and degrowth. We have studied the unique planarian process of degrowth. When food is not available, planarians are able to degrow to a minimum size, without any signs of adverse physiological outcomes. For example they maintain full regenerative capacity. Our current knowledge of how this is regulated at the molecular and cellular level is very limited. Planarian degrowth has been reported to result from a decrease in cell number rather than a decrease in cell size. Thus one obvious explanation for degrowth would be a decrease in stem cell proliferation. However evidence in the literature suggests this is not the case. We show that planarians maintain normal basal mitotic rates during degrowth but that the number of stem cell progeny decreases during starvation and degrowth. These observations are reversed upon feeding, indicating that they are dependent on nutritional status. An increase in cell death is also observed during degrowth, which is not rapidly reversed upon feeding. We conclude that degrowth is a result of cell death decreasing cell numbers and that the dynamics of neoblast self-renewal and differentiation adapt to nutrient conditions to allow maintenance of the neoblast population during the period of starvation.

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