Scientists have discovered a small African mouse with an unusual ability to regrow damaged tissues, a find that can advance research on limb regeneration in humans.
Researchers from the University of Florida found that the African spiny mouse can regrow new body tissues following an injury.
Biologists have long studied salamanders for their ability to regrow lost limbs. But amphibian biology is very different than human biology, so lessons learned in laboratories from salamanders are difficult to translate into medical therapies for humans.
"The African spiny mouse appears to regenerate ear tissue\ in much the way that a salamander regrows a limb that has been lost to a predator. Skin, hair follicles, cartilage - it all comes back," said Ashley W Seifert, a postdoctoral researcher in UF's biology department.
"That's not the case in other mammals. Usually scar tissue forms to fill the gap created by a wound," Seifert said in a statement.
The spiny mouse also regrows tissue on its main body when injured but not as completely as it does in its ears.
"On their backs, they regrow hair follicles and skin, but the muscle beneath the skin doesn't regenerate," Seifert said.
"Autotomy in skinks, geckos and some salamanders is well known. But it is very rare in mammals, and so far we've only seen it in a few rodents that can jettison their tail,"
In Mpala Research Centre near Nairobi in Kenya, Seifert documented the first known case of skin autotomy in a mammal.
Seifert used a 4mm biopsy punch, about the size of a large BB, to puncture holes in the ears of the mice to see if the animal showed regenerative capabilities.
"The results were astonishing. The various tissues in the ear grew back through formation of blastema-like structures - the same sort of biological process that a salamander uses to regenerate a severed limb," Seifert said. The study was published in the journal Nature.