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J Cell Sci. 2012 Apr 1;125(Pt 7):1657-65. doi: 10.1242/jcs.104711. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

TOR signaling regulates planarian stem cells and controls localized and organismal growth.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, School of Natural Sciences, University of California at Merced, Merced, CA 95343, USA.


Target of Rapamycin (TOR) controls an evolutionarily conserved signaling pathway that modulates cellular growth and division by sensing levels of nutrients, energy and stress. As such, TOR signaling is a crucial component of tissues and organs that translates systemic signals into cellular behavior. The ubiquitous nature of TOR signaling, together with the difficulty of analyzing tissue during cellular turnover and repair, have limited our understanding of how this kinase operates throughout the body. Here, we use the planarian model system to address TOR regulation at the organismal level. The planarian TOR homolog (Smed-TOR) is ubiquitously expressed, including stem cells (neoblasts) and differentiated tissues. Inhibition of TOR with RNA interference severely restricts cell proliferation, allowing the study of neoblasts with restricted proliferative capacity during regeneration and systemic cell turnover. Strikingly, TOR signaling is required for neoblast response to amputation and localized growth (blastema). However, in the absence of TOR signaling, regeneration takes place only within differentiated tissues. In addition, TOR is essential for maintaining the balance between cell division and cell death, and its dysfunction leads to tissue degeneration and lack of organismal growth in the presence of nutrients. Finally, TOR function is likely to be mediated through TOR Complex 1 as its disruption recapitulates signs of the TOR phenotype. Our data reveal novel roles for TOR signaling in controlling adult stem cells at a systemic level and suggest a new paradigm for studying TOR function during physiological turnover and regeneration.

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