Deer antler is the only mammalian organ that can fully grow back once lost from its pedicle - the base from which it grows. Therefore, antlers probably offer the most pertinent model for studying organ regeneration in mammals. This paper reviews our current understanding of the mechanisms underlying regeneration of antlers, and provides insights into the possible use for human regenerative medicine. Based on the definition, antler renewal belongs to a special type of regeneration termed epimorphic. However, histological examination failed to detect dedifferentiation of any cell type on the pedicle stump and the formation of a blastema, which are hallmark features of classic epimorphic regeneration. Instead, antler regeneration is achieved through the recruitment, proliferation and differentiation of the single cell type in the pedicle periosteum (PP). The PP cells are the direct derivatives of cells resident in the antlerogenic periosteum (AP), a tissue that exists in prepubertal deer calves and can induce ectopic antler formation when transplanted elsewhere on the deer body. Both the AP and PP cells express key embryonic stem cell markers and can be induced to differentiate into multiple cell lineages in vitro and, therefore, they are termed antler stem cells, and antler regeneration is a stem cell-based epimorphic regeneration. Comparisons between the healing process on the stumps from an amputated mouse limb and early regeneration of antlers suggest that the stump of a mouse limb cannot regenerate because of the limited potential of periosteal cells in long bones to proliferate. If we can impart a greater potential of these periosteal cells to proliferate, we might at least be able to partially regenerate limbs lost from humans. Taken together, a greater understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the regeneration of antlers may provide a valuable insight to aid the field of regenerative medicine. This article is part of a Directed Issue entitled: Regenerative Medicine: the challenge of translation.
Keywords: Antler; Deer; Organ regeneration; Pedicle; Stem cell.
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