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December 08, 2011

Cells’ electrical properties manipulated to grow eye in gut a major step towards regeneration of complex organs and limbs

For the first time, scientists have altered natural bioelectrical communication among cells to directly specify the type of new organ to be created at a particular location within a vertebrate organism. Using genetic manipulation of membrane voltage in Xenopus (frog) embryos, biologists at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences were able to cause tadpoles to grow eyes outside of the head area.

The researchers achieved most surprising results when they manipulated membrane voltage of cells in the tadpole's back and tail, well outside of where the eyes could normally form. "The hypothesis is that for every structure in the body there is a specific membrane voltage range that drives organogenesis," said Tufts post-doctoral fellow Vaibhav P. Pai Ph.D., first author of the paper, entitled "Transmembrane Voltage Potential Controls Embryonic Eye Patterning in Xenopus laevis." Pai noted, "These were cells in regions that were never thought to be able to form eyes. This suggests that cells from anywhere in the body can be driven to form an eye."

To do this, they changed the voltage gradient of cells in the tadpoles' back and tail to match that of normal eye cells. The eye-specific gradient drove the cells in the back and tail—which would normally develop into other organs—to develop into eyes.

These findings break new ground in the field of biomedicine because they identify an entirely new control mechanism that can be capitalized upon to induce the formation of complex organs for transplantation or regenerative medicine applications, according to Michael Levin, Ph.D., professor of biology and director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences
Eye grown in gut of tadpole





Electric Properties of Cells Can Be Manipulated to Generate Specific Organs

The researchers achieved most surprising results when they manipulated membrane voltage of cells in the tadpole's back and tail, well outside of where the eyes could normally form.

"The hypothesis is that for every structure in the body there is a specific membrane voltage range that drives organogenesis," said Pai. "By using a specific membrane voltage, we were able to generate normal eyes in regions that were never thought to be able to form eyes. This suggests that cells from anywhere in the body can be driven to form an eye."

Levin and his colleagues are pursuing further research, additionally targeting the brain, spinal cord, and limbs. The findings, he said "will allow us to have much better control of tissue and organ pattern formation in general. We are developing new applications of molecular bioelectricity in limb regeneration, brain repair, and synthetic biology."

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