A Brain Unfixed: Unlimited Neurogenesis and Regeneration of the Adult Planarian Nervous System

Front Neurosci. 2017 May 23;11:289. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00289. eCollection 2017.


Powerful genetic tools in classical laboratory models have been fundamental to our understanding of how stem cells give rise to complex neural tissues during embryonic development. In contrast, adult neurogenesis in our model systems, if present, is typically constrained to one or a few zones of the adult brain to produce a limited subset of neurons leading to the dogma that the brain is primarily fixed post-development. The freshwater planarian (flatworm) is an invertebrate model system that challenges this dogma. The planarian possesses a brain containing several thousand neurons with very high rates of cell turnover (homeostasis), which can also be fully regenerated de novo from injury in just 7 days. Both homeostasis and regeneration depend on the activity of a large population of adult stem cells, called neoblasts, throughout the planarian body. Thus, much effort has been put forth to understand how the flatworm can continually give rise to the diversity of cell types found in the adult brain. Here we focus on work using single-cell genomics and functional analyses to unravel the cellular hierarchies from stem cell to neuron. In addition, we will review what is known about how planarians utilize developmental signaling to maintain proper tissue patterning, homeostasis, and cell-type diversity in their brains. Together, planarians are a powerful emerging model system to study the dynamics of adult neurogenesis and regeneration.

Keywords: adult neurogenesis; brain plasticity; planarian; regeneration; stem cell heterogeneity.