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Dev Biol. 1999 Feb 1;206(1):73-87.

Expression of vasa(vas)-related genes in germline cells and totipotent somatic stem cells of planarians.

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Department of Life Science, Faculty of Science, Himeji Institute of Technology, Harima Science Garden City, Hyogo, 678-1297, Japan.


Planarians are known for their strong regenerative ability. This ability has been considered to reside in the totipotent somatic stem cell called the "neoblast." Neoblasts contain a unique cytoplasmic structure called the "chromatoid body," which has similar characteristics to the germline granules of germline cells of other animals. The chromatoid bodies decrease in number and size during cytodifferentiation and disappear in completely differentiated cells during regeneration. However, germ cells maintain the chromatoid body during their differentiation from neoblasts. These observations suggest that the chromatoid body is concerned with the totipotency of cells. To understand the molecular nature of the chromatoid body in the neoblast, we focused on vasa (vas)-related genes, since VAS and VAS-related proteins are known to be components of the germline granules in Drosophila and Caenorhabditis elegans. By PCR, two vas-related genes (Dugesia japonica vasa-like gene, DjvlgA and DjvlgB) were isolated, and they were shown to be expressed in germ cells. Interestingly, DjvlgA was also expressed in a number of somatic cells in the mesenchymal space. In regenerating planarians, accumulation of DjvlgA-expressing cells was observed in both the blastema and the blastema-proximal region. In X-ray-irradiated planarians, which had lost regenerative capacity, the number of DjvlgA-expressing cells decreased drastically. These results suggest that the product of DjvlgA may be a component of the chromatoid body and may be involved in the totipotency of the neoblast.

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