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Concept: Axolotl


Salamanders serve as important tetrapod models for developmental, regeneration and evolutionary studies. An extensive molecular toolkit makes the Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) a key representative salamander for molecular investigations. Here we report the sequencing and assembly of the 32-gigabase-pair axolotl genome using an approach that combined long-read sequencing, optical mapping and development of a new genome assembler (MARVEL). We observed a size expansion of introns and intergenic regions, largely attributable to multiplication of long terminal repeat retroelements. We provide evidence that intron size in developmental genes is under constraint and that species-restricted genes may contribute to limb regeneration. The axolotl genome assembly does not contain the essential developmental gene Pax3. However, mutation of the axolotl Pax3 paralogue Pax7 resulted in an axolotl phenotype that was similar to those seen in Pax3-/- and Pax7-/- mutant mice. The axolotl genome provides a rich biological resource for developmental and evolutionary studies.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Molecular biology, RNA, Regeneration, Axolotl


The axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum is one of the most commonly used model organisms in developmental and regenerative studies because it can reconstitute what is believed to be a completely normal anatomical and functional forelimb/hindlimb after amputation. However, to date it has not been confirmed whether each regenerated forelimb muscle is really a “perfect” copy of the original muscle. This study describes the regeneration of the arm, forearm, hand, and some pectoral muscles (e.g., coracoradialis) in transgenic axolotls that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) in muscle fibers. The observations found that: (1) there were muscle anomalies in 43% of the regenerated forelimbs; (2) however, on average in each regenerated forelimb there are anomalies in only 2.5% of the total number of muscles examined, and there were no significant differences observed in the specific insertion and origin of the other muscles analyzed; (3) one of the most notable and common anomalies (seen in 35% of the regenerated forelimbs) was the presence of a fleshy coracoradialis at the level of the arm; this is a particularly outstanding configuration because in axolotls and in urodeles in general this muscle only has a thin tendon at the level of the arm, and the additional fleshy belly in the regenerated arms is strikingly similar to the fleshy biceps brachii of amniotes, suggesting a remarkable parallel between a regeneration defect and a major phenotypic change that occurred during tetrapod limb evolution; (4) during forelimb muscle regeneration there was a clear proximo-distal and radio-ulnar morphogenetic gradient, as seen in normal development, but also a ventro-dorsal gradient in the order of regeneration, which was not previously described in the literature. These results have broader implications for regenerative, evolutionary, developmental and morphogenetic studies. Anat Rec, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Muscle, Regeneration, Biceps brachii muscle, Axolotl, Salamander, Mole salamander, Neoteny


Perfusion techniques have been used for centuries to visualize the circulation of tissues. Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a species of salamander that has emerged as an essential model for regeneration studies. Little is known about how revascularization occurs in the context of regeneration in these animals. Here we report a simple method for visualization of the vasculature in axolotl via perfusion of 1,1'-Dioctadecy-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate (DiI). DiI is a lipophilic carbocyanine dye that inserts into the plasma membrane of endothelial cells instantaneously. Perfusion is done using a peristaltic pump such that DiI enters the circulation through the aorta. During perfusion, dye flows through the axolotl’s blood vessels and incorporates into the lipid bilayer of vascular endothelial cells upon contact. The perfusion procedure takes approximately one hour for an eight-inch axolotl. Immediately after perfusion with DiI, the axolotl can be visualized with a confocal fluorescent microscope. The DiI emits light in the red-orange range when excited with a green fluorescent filter. This DiI perfusion procedure can be used to visualize the vascular structure of axolotls or to demonstrate patterns of revascularization in regenerating tissues.

Concepts: Blood, Heart, Blood vessel, Regeneration, Endothelium, Cardiovascular system, Axolotl, Mole salamander


Connective tissues-skeleton, dermis, pericytes, fascia-are a key cell source for regenerating the patterned skeleton during axolotl appendage regeneration. This complexity has made it difficult to identify the cells that regenerate skeletal tissue. Inability to identify these cells has impeded a mechanistic understanding of blastema formation. By tracing cells during digit tip regeneration using brainbow transgenic axolotls, we show that cells from each connective tissue compartment have distinct spatial and temporal profiles of proliferation, migration, and differentiation. Chondrocytes proliferate but do not migrate into the regenerate. In contrast, pericytes proliferate, then migrate into the blastema and give rise solely to pericytes. Periskeletal cells and fibroblasts contribute the bulk of digit blastema cells and acquire diverse fates according to successive waves of migration that choreograph their proximal-distal and tissue contributions. We further show that platelet-derived growth factor signaling is a potent inducer of fibroblast migration, which is required to form the blastema.

Concepts: Bone, Collagen, Extracellular matrix, Angiogenesis, Cellular differentiation, Regeneration, Axolotl


Salamanders are unparalleled among tetrapods in their ability to regenerate many structures, including entire limbs, and the study of this ability may provide insights into human regenerative therapies. The complex structure of the limb poses challenges to the investigation of the cellular and molecular basis of its regeneration. Using CRISPR/Cas, we genetically labelled unique cell lineages within the developing axolotl embryo and tracked the frequency of each lineage within amputated and fully regenerated limbs. This allowed us, for the first time, to assess the contributions of multiple low frequency cell lineages to the regenerating limb at once. Our comparisons reveal that regenerated limbs are high fidelity replicas of the originals even after repeated amputations.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Developmental biology, Regeneration, Axolotl, Salamander


The regenerating region of an amputated salamander limb, known as the blastema, has the amazing capacity to replace exactly the missing structures. By grafting cells from different stages and regions of blastemas induced to form on donor animals expressing Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), to non-GFP host animals, we have determined that the cells from early stage blastemas, as well as cells at the tip of late stage blastemas are developmentally labile such that their positional identity is reprogrammed by interactions with more proximal cells with stable positional information. In contrast, cells from the adjacent, more proximal stump tissues as well as the basal region of late bud blastemas are positionally stable, and thus form ectopic limb structures when grafted. Finally, we have found that a nerve is required to maintain the blastema cells in a positionally labile state, thus indicating a role for reprogramming cues in the blastema microenvironment.

Concepts: Protein, Green fluorescent protein, Regeneration, Musical form, Axolotl, Mole salamanders, Mole salamander, Neoteny


Mammals have extremely limited regenerative capabilities; however, axolotls are profoundly regenerative and can replace entire limbs. The mechanisms underlying limb regeneration remain poorly understood, partly because the enormous and incompletely sequenced genomes of axolotls have hindered the study of genes facilitating regeneration. We assembled and annotated a de novo transcriptome using RNA-sequencing profiles for a broad spectrum of tissues that is estimated to have near-complete sequence information for 88% of axolotl genes. We devised expression analyses that identified the axolotl orthologs of cirbp and kazald1 as highly expressed and enriched in blastemas. Using morpholino anti-sense oligonucleotides, we find evidence that cirbp plays a cytoprotective role during limb regeneration whereas manipulation of kazald1 expression disrupts regeneration. Our transcriptome and annotation resources greatly complement previous transcriptomic studies and will be a valuable resource for future research in regenerative biology.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Organism, Regeneration, Axolotl


Salamanders regenerate appendages via a progenitor pool called the blastema. The cellular mechanisms underlying regeneration of muscle have been much debated but have remained unclear. Here we applied Cre-loxP genetic fate mapping to skeletal muscle during limb regeneration in two salamander species, Notophthalmus viridescens (newt) and Ambystoma mexicanum (axolotl). Remarkably, we found that myofiber dedifferentiation is an integral part of limb regeneration in the newt, but not in axolotl. In the newt, myofiber fragmentation results in proliferating, PAX7(-) mononuclear cells in the blastema that give rise to the skeletal muscle in the new limb. In contrast, myofibers in axolotl do not generate proliferating cells, and do not contribute to newly regenerated muscle; instead, resident PAX7(+) cells provide the regeneration activity. Our results therefore show significant diversity in limb muscle regeneration mechanisms among salamanders and suggest that multiple strategies may be feasible for inducing regeneration in other species, including mammals.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Cellular differentiation, Regeneration, Newt, Axolotl, Salamander


BACKGROUND: The fish-tetrapod transition was one of the major events in vertebrate evolution and was enabled by many morphological changes. Although the transformation of paired fish fins into tetrapod limbs has been a major topic of study in recent years, both from paleontological and comparative developmental perspectives, the interest has focused almost exclusively on the distal part of the appendage and in particular the origin of digits. Relatively little attention has been paid to the transformation of the pelvic girdle from a small unipartite structure to a large tripartite weight-bearing structure, allowing tetrapods to rely mostly on their hindlimbs for locomotion. In order to understand how the ischium and the ilium evolved and how the acetabulum was reoriented during this transition, growth series of the Australian lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri and the Mexican axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum were cleared and stained for cartilage and bone and immunostained for skeletal muscles. In order to understand the myological developmental data, hypotheses about the homologies of pelvic muscles in adults of Latimeria, Neoceratodus and Necturus were formulated based on descriptions from the literature of the coelacanth (Latimeria), the Australian Lungfish (Neoceratodus) and a salamander (Necturus). RESULTS: In the axolotl and the lungfish, the chondrification of the pelvic girdle starts at the acetabula and progresses anteriorly in the lungfish and anteriorly and posteriorly in the salamander. The ilium develops by extending dorsally to meet and connect to the sacral rib in the axolotl. Homologous muscles develop in the same order with the hypaxial musculature developing first, followed by the deep, then the superficial pelvic musculature. CONCLUSIONS: Development of the pelvic endoskeleton and musculature is very similar in Neoceratodus and Ambystoma. If the acetabulum is seen as being a fixed landmark, the evolution of the ischium only required pubic pre-chondrogenic cells to migrate posteriorly. It is hypothesized that the iliac process or ridge present in most tetrapodomorph fish is the precursor to the tetrapod ilium and that its evolution mimicked its development in modern salamanders.

Concepts: Fish, Pelvis, Acetabulum, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Ilium, Axolotl, Lungfish


Salamanders exhibit extensive regenerative capacities and serve as a unique model in regeneration research. However, due to the lack of targeted gene knockin approaches, it has been difficult to label and manipulate some of the cell populations that are crucial for understanding the mechanisms underlying regeneration. Here we have established highly efficient gene knockin approaches in the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) based on the CRISPR/Cas9 technology. Using a homology-independent method, we successfully inserted both the Cherry reporter gene and a larger membrane-tagged Cherry-ER(T2)-Cre-ER(T2) (∼5-kb) cassette into axolotl Sox2 and Pax7 genomic loci. Depending on the size of the DNA fragments for integration, 5-15% of the F0 transgenic axolotl are positive for the transgene. Using these techniques, we have labeled and traced the PAX7-positive satellite cells as a major source contributing to myogenesis during axolotl limb regeneration. Our work brings a key genetic tool to molecular and cellular studies of axolotl regeneration.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Regeneration, Axolotl, Mole salamander