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Open Access Research article

Radial glial cells play a key role in echinoderm neural regeneration

Vladimir S Mashanov*, Olga R Zueva and José E García-Arrarás

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, PO Box 70377, San Juan, PR, 00936-8377, USA

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BMC Biology 2013, 11:49  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-49

Published: 18 April 2013



Unlike the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), the CNS of echinoderms is capable of fast and efficient regeneration following injury and constitutes one of the most promising model systems that can provide important insights into evolution of the cellular and molecular events involved in neural repair in deuterostomes. So far, the cellular mechanisms of neural regeneration in echinoderm remained obscure. In this study we show that radial glial cells are the main source of new cells in the regenerating radial nerve cord in these animals.


We demonstrate that radial glial cells of the sea cucumber Holothuria glaberrima react to injury by dedifferentiation. Both glia and neurons undergo programmed cell death in the lesioned CNS, but it is the dedifferentiated glial subpopulation in the vicinity of the injury that accounts for the vast majority of cell divisions. Glial outgrowth leads to formation of a tubular scaffold at the growing tip, which is later populated by neural elements. Most importantly, radial glial cells themselves give rise to new neurons. At least some of the newly produced neurons survive for more than 4 months and express neuronal markers typical of the mature echinoderm CNS.


A hypothesis is formulated that CNS regeneration via activation of radial glial cells may represent a common capacity of the Deuterostomia, which is not invoked spontaneously in higher vertebrates, whose adult CNS does not retain radial glial cells. Potential implications for biomedical research aimed at finding the cure for human CNS injuries are discussed.

Cellular mechanisms; Central nervous system; Echinodermata; Injury; Neurogenesis; Radial glia; Regeneration; Sea cucumber