Wistar Scientists Locate Genes Involved In Mammalian Tissue Regeneration

September 30, 1998

Philadelphia, PA, September 29, 1998 -- Five years ago, Wistar Institute immunologist, Ellen Heber-Katz, Ph.D., and her Wistar research team identified a "healer" mouse capable of regenerating ear tissue. In a paper appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they reveal their latest data on the genetics of the "healer" mouse.

Though still at the basic research stage, the Wistar scientists' findings are expected to have major implications for wound and burn healing, organ replacement, spinal cord regeneration and controlled tissue growth.

Because mice are genetically similar to humans, they are an ideal model for the laboratory study of mammalian regeneration. Prior to Dr. Heber-Katz's discovery of the "healer" mouse, it was possible to study regeneration only in amphibians, which are biologically, genetically and immunologically different from humans.

To collect information about the genetics of wound healing and regeneration, Dr. Heber-Katz and her group cross-bred "healer" mice with non-healers. It appears that, in inbred mice, this type of healing is a heritable trait.

By screening the entire mouse genome, Dr. Heber-Katz's laboratory, working in collaboration with immunogeneticist, Elizabeth Blankenhorn, Ph.D., of the Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, has identified multiple regions on five different chromosomes that appear to be responsible for wound healing and regeneration in mammals.

Although the researchers have not yet identified the precise contents of each locus, or region, one potential gene is a receptor for retinoic acid, known to play a role in developmental processes and the growth of skin. Interestingly, retinoic acid is also involved in amphibian regeneration.

Similar to what has been seen in amphibian regeneration, "healer" mice appear to develop a blastema at the site of a wound. A blastema is a structure made up of rapidly dividing immature cells with the potential to become different tissues. The mice are consequently able to regrow skin and cartilage, and to heal without scarring. These findings are similar to what was previously seen in amphibians.

Dr. Heber-Katz's research has been funded since its inception by The G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation, a private foundation based in Mount Kisco, New York. Recently, she received additional funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Wistar Institute, established in 1892, was the first independent medical research facility in the U.S. For more than 100 years, Wistar scientists have been making history and improving world health through their development of vaccines for diseases that include rabies, German measles, infantile gastroenteritis (rotavirus), and cytomegalovirus; discovery of molecules like interleukin-12, which are helping the immune system fight bacteria, parasites, viruses and cancer; and location of genes that contribute to the development of diseases like breast, lung and prostate cancer. Wistar is a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center.

The Wistar Institute

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