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Science 319 (5861): 323-327

Copyright © 2008 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

β-Catenin Defines Head Versus Tail Identity During Planarian Regeneration and Homeostasis

Kyle A. Gurley, Jochen C. Rink, Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado*

Abstract: After amputation, freshwater planarians properly regenerate a head or tail from the resulting anterior or posterior wound. The mechanisms that differentiate anterior from posterior and direct the replacement of the appropriate missing body parts are unknown. We found that in the planarian Schmidtea mediterranea, RNA interference (RNAi) of β-catenin or dishevelled causes the inappropriate regeneration of a head instead of a tail at posterior amputations. Conversely, RNAi of the β-catenin antagonist adenomatous polyposis coli results in the regeneration of a tail at anterior wounds. In addition, the silencing of β-catenin is sufficient to transform the tail of uncut adult animals into a head. We suggest that β-catenin functions as a molecular switch to specify and maintain anteroposterior identity during regeneration and homeostasis in planarians.

Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Utah School of Medicine, 401 MREB, 20N 1900E, Salt Lake City, UT 84132, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: sanchez{at}

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