Mechano-Chemical Coupling In Hydra Regeneration And Patterning

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Integrative And Comparative Biology


The freshwater cnidarian Hydra can regenerate from wounds, small tissue fragments and even from aggregated cells. This process requires the de novo development of a body axis and oral–aboral polarity, a fundamental developmental process that involves chemical patterning and mechanical shape changes. Gierer and Meinhardt recognized that Hydra’s simple body plan and amenability to in vivo experiments make it an experimentally and mathematically tractable model to study developmental patterning and symmetry breaking. They developed a reaction-diffusion model, involving a short-range activator and a long-range inhibitor, which successfully explained patterning in the adult animal. In 2011, HyWnt3 was identified as a candidate for the activator. However, despite the continued efforts of both physicists and biologists, the predicted inhibitor remains elusive. Furthermore, the Gierer-Meinhardt model cannot explain de novo axis formation in cellular aggregates that lack inherited tissue polarity. The aim of this review is to synthesize the current knowledge on Hydra symmetry breaking and patterning. We summarize the history of patterning studies and insights from recent biomechanical and molecular studies, and highlight the need for continued validation of theoretical assumptions and collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. We conclude by proposing new experiments to test current mechano-chemical coupling models and suggest ideas for expanding the Gierer-Meinhardt model to explain de novo patterning, as observed in Hydra aggregates. The availability of a fully sequenced genome, transgenic fluorescent reporter strains, and modern imaging techniques, that enable unprecedented observation of cellular events in vivo, promise to allow the community to crack Hydra’s secret to patterning.

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