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Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Regeneration – Groundbreaking Study Offers New Insight

Neuron generation trajectories. Credit: BGI Genomics

The first-ever axolotl stereo-seq gives new insights into brain regeneration.

Because of its distinctive and adorable look, the axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum is a popular pet. Unlike other metamorphosing salamanders, axolotls (pronounced ACK-suh-LAH-tuhl) never outgrow their larval, juvenile stage, a trait known as neoteny. It’s also recognized for its ability to regenerate missing limbs and other tissues including the brain, spinal cord, tail, skin, limbs, liver, skeletal muscle, heart, upper and lower jaw, and ocular tissues like the retina, cornea, and lens.

Mammals, including humans, are almost incapable of rebuilding damaged tissue after a brain injury. Some species, such as fish and axolotls, on the other hand, may replenish wounded brain regions with new neurons.

Tissue Types the Axolotl Can Regenerate

Tissue types the axolotl can regenerate as shown in red. Credit: Debuque and Godwin, 2016

Brain regeneration necessitates the coordination of complex responses in a time and region-specific way. In a paper published on the cover of Science, BGI and its research partners used Stereo-seq technology to recreate the axolotl brain architecture throughout developing and regenerative processes at single-cell resolution. Examining the genes and cell types that enable axolotls to renew their brains might lead to better treatments for severe injuries and unlock human regeneration potential.

Cell Regeneration Images Following an Injury

Cell regeneration images at seven different time points following an injury; the control image is on the left. Credit: BGI Genomics

The research team collected axolotl samples from six development stages and seven regeneration phases with corresponding spatiotemporal Stereo-seq data. The six developmental stages include:

  • The first feeding stage after hatching (Stage 44)
  • The forelimb development stage (Stage 54)
  • The hindlimb development stage (Stage 57)
  • Juvenile stage
  • Adulthood
  • Metamorphosis

Through the systematic study of cell types in various developmental stages, researchers found that during the early development stage neural stem cells located in the VZ region are difficult to distinguish between subtypes, and with specialized neural stem cell subtypes with spatial regional characteristics from adolescence, thus suggesting that various subtypes may have different functions during regeneration.

In the third part of the study, the researchers generated a group of spatial transcriptomic data of telencephalon sections that covered seven injury-induced regenerative stages. After 15 days, a new subtype of neural stem cells, reaEGC (reactive ependymoglial cells), appeared in the wound area.

Axolotl Brain Developmental and Regeneration

Axolotl brain developmental and regeneration processes. Credit: BGI Genomics

Partial tissue connection appeared at the wound, and after 20 to 30 days, new tissue had been regenerated, but the cell type composition was significantly different from the non-injured tissue. The cell types and distribution in the damaged area did not return to the state of the non-injured tissue until 60 days post-injury.

The key neural stem cell subtype (reaEGC) involved in this process was derived from the activation and transformation of quiescent neural stem cell subtypes (wntEGC and sfrpEGC) near the wound after being stimulated by injury.

What are the similarities and differences between neuron formation during development and regeneration? Researchers discovered a similar pattern between development and regeneration, which is from neural stem cells to progenitor cells, subsequently into immature neurons and finally to mature neurons.

Axolotl Brain Development

Spatial and temporal distribution of axolotl brain development. Credit: BGI Genomics

By comparing the molecular characteristics of the two processes, the researchers found that the neuron formation process is highly similar during regeneration and development, indicating that injury induces neural stem cells to transform themselves into a rejuvenated state of development to initiate the regeneration process.

“Our team analyzed the important cell types in the process of axolotl brain regeneration, and tracked the changes in its spatial cell lineage,” said Dr. Xiaoyu Wei, the first author of this paper and BGI-Research senior researcher. “The spatiotemporal dynamics of key cell types revealed by Stereo-seq provide us a powerful tool to pave new research directions in life sciences.”

Corresponding author Xun Xu, Director of Life Sciences at BGI-Research, noted that “In nature, there are many self-regenerating species, and the mechanisms of regeneration are pretty diverse. With multi-omics methods, scientists around the world may work together more systematically.”

Reference: “Single-cell Stereo-seq reveals induced progenitor cells involved in axolotl brain regeneration” by Xiaoyu Wei, Sulei Fu, Hanbo Li, Yang Liu, Shuai Wang, Weimin Feng, Yunzhi Yang, Xiawei Liu, Yan-Yun Zeng, Mengnan Cheng, Yiwei Lai, Xiaojie Qiu, Liang Wu, Nannan Zhang, Yujia Jiang, Jiangshan Xu, Xiaoshan Su, Cheng Peng, Lei Han, Wilson Pak-Kin Lou, Chuanyu Liu, Yue Yuan, Kailong Ma, Tao Yang, Xiangyu Pan, Shang Gao, Ao Chen, Miguel A. Esteban, Huanming Yang, Jian Wang, Guangyi Fan, Longqi Liu, Liang Chen, Xun Xu, Ji-Feng Fei and Ying Gu, 2 September 2022, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abp9444

This study has passed ethical reviews and follows the corresponding regulations and ethical guidelines.

Source: SciTechDaily