Background: Although regenerative capacity is evident throughout the animal kingdom, it is not equally distributed throughout evolution. For instance, complex limb/appendage regeneration is muted in mammals but enhanced in amphibians and teleosts. The defining characteristic of limb/appendage regenerative systems is the formation of a dedifferentiated tissue, termed blastema, which serves as the progenitor reservoir for regenerating tissues. In order to identify a genetic signature that accompanies blastema formation, we employ next-generation sequencing to identify shared, differentially regulated mRNAs and noncoding RNAs in three different, highly regenerative animal systems: zebrafish caudal fins, bichir pectoral fins and axolotl forelimbs.
Results: These studies identified a core group of 5 microRNAs (miRNAs) that were commonly upregulated and 5 miRNAs that were commonly downregulated, as well as 4 novel tRNAs fragments with sequences conserved with humans. To understand the potential function of these miRNAs, we built a network of 1,550 commonly differentially expressed mRNAs that had functional relationships to 11 orthologous blastema-associated genes. As miR-21 was the most highly upregulated and most highly expressed miRNA in all three models, we validated the expression of known target genes, including the tumor suppressor, pdcd4, and TGFβ receptor subunit, tgfbr2 and novel putative target genes such as the anti-apoptotic factor, bcl2l13, Choline kinase alpha, chka and the regulator of G-protein signaling, rgs5.
Conclusions: Our extensive analysis of RNA-seq transcriptome profiling studies in three regenerative animal models, that diverged in evolution ~420 million years ago, reveals a common miRNA-regulated genetic network of blastema genes. These comparative studies extend our current understanding of limb/appendage regeneration by identifying previously unassociated blastema genes and the extensive regulation by miRNAs, which could serve as a foundation for future functional studies to examine the process of natural cellular reprogramming in an injury context.