Regenerating damaged tissue is a complex process, requiring progenitor cells that must be stimulated to undergo proliferation, differentiation and, often, migratory behaviors and morphological changes. Multiple cell types, both resident within the damaged tissue and recruited to the lesion site, have been shown to participate. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the activation of progenitor cell proliferation and differentiation after injury, and their regulation by different cells types, are not fully understood. The zebrafish lateral line is a suitable system to study regeneration because most of its components are fully restored after damage. The posterior lateral line (PLL) is a mechanosensory system that develops embryonically and is initially composed of seven to eight neuromasts distributed along the trunk and tail, connected by a continuous stripe of interneuromastic cells (INCs). The INCs remain in a quiescent state owing to the presence of underlying Schwann cells. They become activated during development to form intercalary neuromasts. However, no studies have described if INCs can participate in a regenerative event, for example, after the total loss of a neuromast.
We used electroablation in transgenic larvae expressing fluorescent proteins in PLL components to completely ablate single neuromasts in larvae and adult fish. This injury results in discontinuity of the INCs, Schwann cells, and the PLL nerve. In vivo imaging showed that the INCs fill the gap left after the injury and can regenerate a new neuromast in the injury zone. Further, a single INC is able to divide and form all cell types in a regenerated neuromast and, during this process, it transiently expresses the sox2 gene, a neural progenitor cell marker. We demonstrate a critical role for Schwann cells as negative regulators of INC proliferation and neuromast regeneration, and that this inhibitory property is completely dependent on active ErbB signaling.
The potential to regenerate a neuromast after damage requires that progenitor cells (INCs) be temporarily released from an inhibitory signal produced by nearby Schwann cells. This simple yet highly effective two-component niche offers the animal robust mechanisms for organ growth and regeneration, which can be sustained throughout life.