Echinoderms represent a phylum with exceptional regenerative capabilities that can reconstruct both external appendages and internal organs. Mechanistic understanding of the cellular pathways involved in regeneration in these animals has been hampered by the limited genomic tools and limited ability to manipulate regenerative processes. We present a functional assay to investigate mechanisms of tissue regeneration and biomineralization by measuring the regrowth of amputated tube feet (sensory and motor appendages) and spines in the sea urchin, Lytechinus variegatus. The ability to manipulate regeneration was demonstrated by concentration-dependent inhibition of regrowth of spines and tube feet by treatment with the mitotic inhibitor, vincristine. Treatment with the gamma-secretase inhibitor DAPT resulted in a concentration-dependent inhibition of regrowth, indicating that both tube feet and spine regeneration require functional Notch signaling. Stem cell markers (Piwi and Vasa) were expressed in tube feet and spine tissue, and Vasa-positive cells were localized throughout the epidermis of tube feet by immunohistochemistry, suggesting the existence of multipotent progenitor cells in these highly regenerative appendages. The presence of Vasa protein in other somatic tissues (e.g. esophagus, radial nerve, and a sub-population of coelomocytes) suggests that multipotent cells are present throughout adult sea urchins and may contribute to normal homeostasis in addition to regeneration. Mechanistic insight into the cellular pathways governing the tremendous regenerative capacity of echinoderms may reveal processes that can be modulated for regenerative therapies, shed light on the evolution of regeneration, and enable the ability to predict how these processes will respond to changing environmental conditions.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133860