FOX and ETS family transcription factors regulate the pigment cell lineage in planarians

Development. 2017 Dec 15;144(24):4540-4551. doi: 10.1242/dev.156349. Epub 2017 Nov 20.


Many pigment cells acquire unique structural properties and gene expression profiles during animal development. The underlying differentiation pathways have been well characterized in cells formed during embryogenesis, such as the neural crest-derived melanocyte. However, much less is known about the developmental origins of pigment cells produced in adult organisms during tissue homeostasis and repair. Here we report a lineage analysis of ommochrome- and porphyrin-producing cells in the brown, freshwater planarian Schmidtea mediterranea Using an RNA-sequencing approach, we identified two classes of markers expressed in sequential fashion when new pigment cells are generated during regeneration or in response to pigment cell ablation. We also report roles for FOXF-1 and ETS-1 transcription factors, as well as for an FGFR-like molecule, in the specification and maintenance of this cell type. Together, our results provide insights into mechanisms of adult pigment cell development in the strikingly colorful Platyhelminthes phylum.

Keywords: Pigment cell; Planarian; Regeneration; Schmidtea mediterranea.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Lineage
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Phenothiazines / metabolism
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Planarians / growth & development*
  • Porphyrins / biosynthesis
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1 / genetics*
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Regeneration / physiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics


  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Phenothiazines
  • Porphyrins
  • Proto-Oncogene Protein c-ets-1
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • ommochrome