Salamander cells could help researchers unlock 'human limb' regeneration

A Salamander can regrow its limbs after they have gone. Credit: Carsten Rehder/DPA

A discovery that could help researchers unlock the "regenerative potential" of human cells, may have been uncovered in the DNA of salamanders.

Salamanders are lizard-like amphibians famous for their capacity to replace body parts. Cut a salamander's leg off, and in time it will grow a new one.

Scientists have said it may be a long way off before humans can regenerate tails, jaws, eyes, organs and even spinal cords - but they are not ruling it out.

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Researchers at University College London have identified a key difference between salamanders and mammals, which may explain why humans lack the same ability.

A Salamander can regrow its limbs after they have gone. Credit: DPA

A biological pathway called ERK must be constantly active for salamander cells to be reprogrammed and contribute to the generation of different body parts.

Through the ERK pathway, proteins communicate signals from a cell's surface to the nucleus containing its genetic material.

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Lead scientist from UCL's Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, said:

While humans have limited regenerative abilities, other organisms, such as the salamander, are able to regenerate an impressive repertoire of complex structures including parts of their hearts, eyes, spinal cord, tails, and they are the only adult vertebrates able to regenerate full limbs. We're thrilled to have found a critical molecular pathway, the ERK pathway. Manipulating this mechanism could contribute to therapies directed at enhancing regenerative potential of human cells.

The research is published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.