Open Access Research article

Cell dedifferentiation and epithelial to mesenchymal transitions during intestinal regeneration in H. glaberrima

José E García-Arrarás*, Griselle Valentín-Tirado, Jaime E Flores, Rey J Rosa, Angélica Rivera-Cruz, José E San Miguel-Ruiz and Karen Tossas

Author Affiliations

Biology Department, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras 00931, Puerto Rico

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BMC Developmental Biology 2011, 11:61  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-11-61

Published: 17 October 2011



Determining the type and source of cells involved in regenerative processes has been one of the most important goals of researchers in the field of regeneration biology. We have previously used several cellular markers to characterize the cells involved in the regeneration of the intestine in the sea cucumber Holothuria glaberrima.


We have now obtained a monoclonal antibody that labels the mesothelium; the outer layer of the gut wall composed of peritoneocytes and myocytes. Using this antibody we studied the role of this tissue layer in the early stages of intestinal regeneration. We have now shown that the mesothelial cells of the mesentery, specifically the muscle component, undergo dedifferentiation from very early on in the regeneration process. Cell proliferation, on the other hand, increases much later, and mainly takes place in the mesothelium or coelomic epithelium of the regenerating intestinal rudiment. Moreover, we have found that the formation of the intestinal rudiment involves a novel regenerative mechanism where epithelial cells ingress into the connective tissue and acquire mesenchymal phenotypes.


Our results strongly suggest that the dedifferentiating mesothelium provides the initial source of cells for the formation of the intestinal rudiment. At later stages, cell proliferation supplies additional cells necessary for the increase in size of the regenerate. Our data also shows that the mechanism of epithelial to mesenchymal transition provides many of the connective tissue cells found in the regenerating intestine. These results present some new and important information as to the cellular basis of organ regeneration and in particular to the process of regeneration of visceral organs.