UF discovery of mouse that regenerates tissue could help advance limb care

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 1:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 2:55 p.m.

Scientists are now one step closer to understanding the regeneration of scar-free skin and hair.


This African spiny mouse specimen was collected in the field near Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo by Ashley Seifert/Courtesy of UF)

University of Florida researchers published a study in the Sept. 27 issue of the journal Nature describing a mammal with salamander-like regenerative abilities.

Ashley W. Seifert, who led the study, found that African spiny mice recovered quickly and scar-free from massive hair and skin loss.

Seifert, a postdoctoral fellow in the biology department at UF, began investigating the skin weakness of two species of rodents about three years ago.

Two major findings were made, he said. First, Seifert went to Kenya to investigate whether the African spiny mice had weaker skin than laboratory mice and if that's a predator-avoidance tactic.

Malcolm Maden, a biology professor at UF and collaborator on the study, gave the example of a snake tearing the skin off of an African spiny mouse's back in attempts to catch the mouse.

“If you do that to a normal mouse, it'll die,” Maden said.

This “skin-shedding phenomenon” has been documented with geckos, said Megan Seifert, who participated in field-based research at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya.

“It's better than being eaten by the predator,” she said. “Compared to lab mice, these mice were able to cope with really large-scale tissue loss induced by the weakness of the skin.”

After researchers tested the rodents' skin strength, Ashley Seifert and his team made large circular punches in the ears of the African mice. “Over 40-50 days, we were able to regenerate that tissue that had been removed, which included hair follicles, skin and cartilage,” he said.

The processes occurred without scarring, which is rare in humans.

As the ear began to heal, the cells started to differentiate, marking a major similarity between the mouse and the salamander, which can regrow functional limbs. Salamanders are known to shed their tails as a defense mechanism.

“The salamander is the king of regeneration,” Maden said.

Following injury, similar processes occurred in the African spiny mouse. A blastema, which is a formation of dedifferentiated cells, formed in the mouse's ear. The dedifferentiation of cells lost their characteristics so that later they could become specialized.

Blastemas are crucial to regrowing functional tissue, researchers said.

“If we can figure out how the ear is reforming, we could potentially grow back a digit, such as a toe or finger,” Ashley Seifert said.

The next step for the researchers is to perform a genomic comparison of the regenerative non-scarring African spiny mouse and that of the laboratory mouse.

The study also will open the opportunity to investigate other mammals that might have regenerative abilities, Maden said.

“Using this one mouse, we could potentially find out how to regenerate hair and skin scar-free after damage,” he said.

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