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Concept: Salamander


Salamanders are the only tetrapods capable of fully regenerating their limbs throughout their entire lives. Much data on the underlying molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration have been gathered in recent years allowing for new comparative studies between salamanders and other tetrapods that lack this unique regenerative potential. By contrast, the evolution of animal regeneration just recently shifted back into focus, despite being highly relevant for research designs aiming to unravel the factors allowing for limb regeneration. We show that the 300-million-year-old temnospondyl amphibian Micromelerpeton, a distant relative of modern amphibians, was already capable of regenerating its limbs. A number of exceptionally well-preserved specimens from fossil deposits show a unique pattern and combination of abnormalities in their limbs that is distinctive of irregular regenerative activity in modern salamanders and does not occur as variants of normal limb development. This demonstrates that the capacity to regenerate limbs is not a derived feature of modern salamanders, but may be an ancient feature of non-amniote tetrapods and possibly even shared by all bony fish. The finding provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of regenerative capacity of paired appendages in vertebrates in the search for conserved versus derived molecular mechanisms of limb regeneration.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Regeneration, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Lissamphibia, Salamander, Labyrinthodontia


The oldest and largest member of giant salamanders (Cryptobranchidae) Aviturus exsecratus appears in the latest Paleocene (near the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum) of Mongolia. Based on femoral and vertebral morphology and metrics, a terrestrial adaptation has been supposed for this species.

Concepts: Amphibian, Chinese giant salamander, Salamanders, Salamander


In recent times, several new species of amphibians have been described from India. Many of these discoveries are from biodiversity hotspots or from within protected areas. We undertook amphibian surveys in human dominated landscapes outside of protected areas in south western region of India between years 2013-2015. We encountered a new species of Microhyla which is described here as Microhyla laterite sp. nov. It was delimited using molecular, morphometric and bioacoustics comparisons. Microhyla laterite sp. nov. appears to be restricted to areas of the West coast of India dominated by laterite rock formations. The laterite rock formations date as far back as the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary and are considered to be wastelands in-spite of their intriguing geological history. We identify knowledge gaps in our understanding of the genus Microhyla from the Indian subcontinent and suggest ways to bridge them.

Concepts: Species, Geology, Indian subcontinent, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Frog, Toad, Salamander


Fossils are almost always represented by hard tissues but we present here the exceptional case of a three-dimensionally preserved specimen that was ‘mummified’ (likely between 40 and 34 million years ago) in a terrestrial karstic environment. This fossil is the incomplete body of a salamander, Phosphotriton sigei, whose skeleton and external morphology are well preserved, as revealed by phase-contrast synchrotron X-ray microtomography. In addition, internal structures composed of soft tissues preserved in three dimensions are now identified: a lung, the spinal cord, a lumbosacral plexus, the digestive tract, muscles and urogenital organs that may be cloacal glands. These are among the oldest known cases of three-dimensional preservation of these organs in vertebrates and shed light on the ecology of this salamander. Indeed, the digestive tract contains remains of a frog, which represents the only known case of an extinct salamander that fed on a frog, an extremely rare type of predation in extant salamanders. These new data improve our scarce knowledge on soft tissue anatomy of early urodeles and should prove useful for future biologists and palaeontologists working on urodele evolutionary biology. We also suggest that the presence of bat guano and carcasses represented a close source of phosphorus, favouring preservation of soft tissues. Bone microanatomy indicates that P. sigei was likely amphibious or terrestrial, and was probably not neotenic.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Tissues, Bat, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Frog, Salamander


Salamanders exhibit an extraordinary ability among vertebrates to regenerate complex body parts. However, scarce genomic resources have limited our understanding of regeneration in adult salamanders. Here, we present the ~20 Gb genome and transcriptome of the Iberian ribbed newt Pleurodeles waltl, a tractable species suitable for laboratory research. We find that embryonic stem cell-specific miRNAs mir-93b and mir-427/430/302, as well as Harbinger DNA transposons carrying the Myb-like proto-oncogene have expanded dramatically in the Pleurodeles waltl genome and are co-expressed during limb regeneration. Moreover, we find that a family of salamander methyltransferases is expressed specifically in adult appendages. Using CRISPR/Cas9 technology to perturb transcription factors, we demonstrate that, unlike the axolotl, Pax3 is present and necessary for development and that contrary to mammals, muscle regeneration is normal without functional Pax7 gene. Our data provide a foundation for comparative genomic studies that generate models for the uneven distribution of regenerative capacities among vertebrates.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, RNA, Genomics, Regeneration, Salamander


Evolutionary modification has produced a spectrum of animal defence traits to escape predation, including the ability to autotomize body parts to elude capture. After autotomy, the missing part is either replaced through regeneration (for example, in urodeles, lizards, arthropods and crustaceans) or permanently lost (such as in mammals). Although most autotomy involves the loss of appendages (legs, chelipeds, antennae or tails, for example), skin autotomy can occur in certain taxa of scincid and gekkonid lizards. Here we report the first demonstration of skin autotomy in Mammalia (African spiny mice, Acomys). Mechanical testing showed a propensity for skin to tear under very low tension and the absence of a fracture plane. After skin loss, rapid wound contraction was followed by hair follicle regeneration in dorsal skin wounds. Notably, we found that regenerative capacity in Acomys was extended to ear holes, where the mice exhibited complete regeneration of hair follicles, sebaceous glands, dermis and cartilage. Salamanders capable of limb regeneration form a blastema (a mass of lineage-restricted progenitor cells) after limb loss, and our findings suggest that ear tissue regeneration in Acomys may proceed through the assembly of a similar structure. This study underscores the importance of investigating regenerative phenomena outside of conventional model organisms, and suggests that mammals may retain a higher capacity for regeneration than was previously believed. As re-emergent interest in regenerative medicine seeks to isolate molecular pathways controlling tissue regeneration in mammals, Acomys may prove useful in identifying mechanisms to promote regeneration in lieu of fibrosis and scarring.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Cellular differentiation, Regeneration, Skin, Hair follicle, Sebaceous gland, Salamander, Blastema


Mammalian fetal skin regenerates perfectly, but adult skin repairs by the formation of scar tissue. The cause of this imperfect repair by adult skin is not understood. In contrast, wounded adult amphibian (urodeles and anurans) skin is like mammalian fetal skin in that it repairs by regeneration, not scarring. Scar-free wound repair in adult Xenopus is associated with expression of the paired homeobox transcription factor Prx1 by mesenchymal cells of the wound, a feature shared by mesenchymal cells of the regeneration blastema of the axolotl limb. Furthermore, mesenchymal cells of Xenopus skin wounds that harbor the mouse Prx1-limb-enhancer as a transgene exhibit activation of the enhancer despite the fact that they are Xenopus cells, suggesting that the mouse Prx1 enhancer possesses all elements required for its activation in skin wound healing, even though activation of the same enhancer in the mouse is not seen in the wounded skin of an adult mouse. Elucidation of the role of the Prx1 gene in amphibian skin wound healing will help to clarify the molecular mechanisms of scarless wound healing. Shifting the molecular mechanism of wound repair in mammals to that of amphibians, including reactivation of the Prx1-limb-enhancer, will be an important clue to stimulate scarless wound repair in mammalian adult skin. Finding or creating Prx1-positive stem cells in adult mammal skin by activating the Prx1-limb-enhancer may be a fast and reliable way to provide for scarless skin wound repair, and even directly lead to limb regeneration in mammals.

Concepts: Gene, Scar, Wound healing, Healing, Developmental biology, Skin, Wound, Salamander


Salamanders have captured the interest of biologists and roboticists for decades because of their ability to locomote in different environments and their resemblance to early representatives of tetrapods. In this article, we review biological and robotic studies on the kinematics (i.e., angular profiles of joints) of salamander locomotion aiming at three main goals: (i) to give a clear view of the kinematics, currently available, for each body part of the salamander while moving in different environments (i.e., terrestrial stepping, aquatic stepping, and swimming), (ii) to examine what is the status of our current knowledge and what remains unclear, and (iii) to discuss how much robotics and modeling have already contributed and will potentially contribute in the future to such studies.

Concepts: Tetrapod, Robotics, Amphibian, Frog, Lissamphibia, Animal locomotion, Salamander, Inverse kinematics


In amphibians, the midbrain tectum is regarded as the visual centre for object recognition but the functional role of forebrain centres in visual information processing is less clear. In order to address this question, the dorsal thalamus was lesioned in the salamander Plethodon shermani, and the effects on orienting behaviour or on visual processing in the tectum were investigated. In a two-alternative-choice task, the average number of orienting responses toward one of two competing prey or simple configural stimuli was significantly decreased in lesioned animals compared to that of controls and sham-lesioned animals. When stimuli were presented during recording from tectal neurons, the number of spikes on presentation of a stimulus in the excitatory receptive field and a second salient stimulus in the surround was significantly reduced in controls and sham-lesioned salamanders compared to single presentation of the stimulus in the excitatory receptive field, while this inhibitory effect on the number of spikes of tectal neurons was absent in thalamus-lesioned animals. In amphibians, the dorsal thalamus is part of the second visual pathway which extends from the tectum via the thalamus to the telencephalon. A feedback loop to the tectum is assumed to modulate visual processing in the tectum and to ensure orienting behaviour toward visual objects. It is concluded that the tectum-thalamus-telencephalon pathway contributes to the recognition and evaluation of objects and enables spatial attention in object selection. This attentional system in amphibians resembles that found in mammals and illustrates the essential role of attention for goal-directed visuomotor action.

Concepts: Nervous system, Brain, Cerebrum, Retina, Visual system, Brainstem, Salamander, Midbrain tectum


The morphology of the adult hyobranchial apparatus has played an important role in understanding the systematics and evolution of urodeles, but the hyobranchial apparatus of hynobiid salamanders has received little attention so far. In this study, the hyobranchial apparatus of eight hynobiid salamanders (Hynobius leechii, Onychodactylus zhangyapingi, Ranodon sibiricus, Batrachuperus pinchonii, Salamandrella keyserlingii, Liua shihi, Pachyhynobius shangchengensis and Pseudohynobius flavomaculatus) is described and compared based on the clearing and double-staining method. The basic elements of the hyobranchial apparatus of the eight species are similar, including one basibranchial, cornua, one pair of radial loops, one pair of ceratohyals, one pair of hypobranchials II, one pair of ceratobranchials II, one urohyal (absent in O. zhangyapingi), one pair of the complex of hypobranchial I and ceratobranchial I (separated in certain species). Although the hyobranchial apparatus is similar among hynobiid salamanders and shows a unique morphological pattern, there are also certain species-specific distinctions that may be used for specific or generic diagnosis. The results of an ancestral state reconstruction of five traits showed that the ossified basibranchial, the presence of a separated hypobranchial I and ceratobranchial I, the absence of a urohyal, the ossified hypobranchial I and the partially ossified ceratohyal are derived traits. The state shown by the traits of each species is consistent with the phylogenetic position of each species. Compared with other Urodela, the hyobranchial apparatus of this group shows certain distinctive features that may represent the diagnostic characters of the family Hynobiidae. The partially ossified ceratohyal is correlated with the habitat and represents an ecological adaptation.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Tetrapod, Amphibian, Frog, Lissamphibia, Salamanders, Salamander