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Current Biology


Behavioral responses of freshwater planarians have been studied for over a century. In recent decades, behavior has been used as a readout to study planarian development and regeneration, wound healing, molecular evolution, neurotoxicology, and learning and memory. The planarian nervous system is among the simplest of the bilaterally symmetric animals, with an anterior brain attached to two ventral nerve cords interconnected by multiple commissures. We found that, in response to mechanical and near-UV stimulation, head stimulation produces turning, tail stimulation produces contraction, and trunk stimulation produces midbody elongation in the planarian Dugesia japonica. When cut into two or three pieces, the anterior end of each headless piece switched its behavior to turning instead of elongation; i.e., it responded as though it were the head. In addition, posterior ends of the head and midbody pieces sometimes produced contraction instead of elongation. Thus, each severed piece acts like an intact animal, with each midbody region having nearly complete behavioral capabilities. These observations show that each midbody region reads the global state of the organism and adapts its response to incoming signals from the remaining tissue. Selective lateral incisions showed that the changes in behavior are not due to nonselective pain responses and that the ventral nerve cords and cross-connectives are responsible for coordinating local behaviors. Our findings highlight a fast functional reorganization of the planarian nervous system that complements the slower repairs provided by regeneration. This reorganization provides needed behavioral responses for survival as regeneration proceeds.


planarians, behavior, near-UV, nervous system, regional responses, functional reorganization


This work is a preprint that is freely available courtesy of Cell Press.

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