Janies, D., Machado, D. J., Reid, R., & Kofsky, J. (2022). A subterminal growth zone at arm tip likely underlies life-long indeterminate growth in brittle stars. Frontiers In Zoology. https://doi.org/doi:10.1186/s12983-022-00461-0
Faculty, Background Echinoderms are a phylum of marine invertebrates with close phylogenetic relationships to chordates. Many members of the phylum Echinodermata are capable of extensive post-traumatic regeneration and life-long indeterminate growth. Different from regeneration, the life-long elongation of the main body axis in adult echinoderms has received little attention. The anatomical location and the nature of the dividing progenitor cells contributing to adults' growth is unknown. Results We show that the proliferating cells that drive the life-long growth of adult brittle star arms are mostly localized to the subterminal (second from the tip) arm segment. Each of the major anatomical structures contains dividing progenitors. These structures include: the radial nerve, water-vascular canal, and arm coelomic wall. Some of those proliferating progenitor cells are capable of multiple rounds of cell division. Within the nervous system, the progenitor cells were identified as a subset of radial glial cells that do not express Brn1/2/4, a transcription factor with a conserved role in the neuronal fate specification. In addition to characterizing the growth zone and the nature of the precursor cells, we provide a description of the microanatomy of the four distal-most arm segments contrasting the distal with the proximal segments, which are more mature. Conclusions The growth of the adult brittle star arms occurs via proliferation of progenitor cells in the distal segments, which are most abundant in the second segment from the tip. At least some of the progenitors are capable of multiple rounds of cell division. Within the nervous system the dividing cells were identified as Brn1/2/4-negative radial glial cells.