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Dev Biol. 2013 Jan 15;373(2):442-52. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2012.10.025. Epub 2012 Nov 1.

The Retinoblastoma pathway regulates stem cell proliferation in freshwater planarians.

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The Hospital for Sick Children, Program in Developmental and Stem Cell Biology, 101 College St. MaRS East Rm 11-704, Toronto, ON, Canada M5G1L7.


Freshwater planarians are flatworms of the Lophotrochozoan superphylum and are well known for their regenerative abilities, which rely on a large population of pluripotent adult stem cells. However, the mechanisms by which planarians maintain a precise population of adult stem cells while balancing proliferation and cell death, remain to be elucidated. Here we have identified, characterized, and functionally tested the core Retinoblastoma (Rb) pathway components in planarian adult stem cell biology. The Rb pathway is an ancient and conserved mechanism of proliferation control from plants to animals and is composed of three core components: an Rb protein, and a transcription factor heterodimer of E2F and DP proteins. Although the planarian genome contains all components of the Rb pathway, we found that they have undergone gene loss from the ancestral state, similar to other species in their phylum. The single Rb homolog (Smed-Rb) was highly expressed in planarian stem cells and was required for stem cell maintenance, similar to the Rb-homologs p107 and p130 in vertebrates. We show that planarians and their phylum have undergone the most severe reduction in E2F genes observed thus far, and the single remaining E2F was predicted to be a repressive-type E2F (Smed-E2F4-1). Knockdown of either Smed-E2F4-1 or its dimerization partner Dp (Smed-Dp) by RNAi resulted in temporary hyper-proliferation. Finally, we showed that known Rb-interacting genes in other systems, histone deacetylase 1 and cyclinD (Smed-HDAC1; Smed-cycD), were similar to Rb in expression and phenotypes when knocked down by RNAi, suggesting that these established interactions with Rb may also be conserved in planarians. Together, these results showed that planarians use the conserved components of the Rb tumor suppressor pathway to control proliferation and cell survival.

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