Head or anterior body part regeneration is commonly associated with protostome, but not deuterostome invertebrates. However, it has been shown that the solitary hemichordate Ptychodera flava possesses the remarkable capacity to regenerate their entire nervous system, including their dorsal neural tube and their anterior head-like structure, or proboscis. Hemichordates, also known as acorn worms, are marine invertebrate deuterostomes that have retained chordate traits that were likely present in the deuterostome ancestor, placing these animals in a vital position to study regeneration and chordate evolution. All acorn worms have a tripartite body plan, with an anterior proboscis, middle collar region, and a posterior trunk. The collar houses a hollow, dorsal neural tube in ptychoderid hemichordates and numerous chordate genes involved in brain and spinal cord development are expressed in a similar anterior-posterior spatial arrangement along the body axis.
We have examined anterior regeneration in the hemichordate Ptychodera flava and report the spatial and temporal morphological changes that occur. Additionally, we have sequenced, assembled, and analyzed the transcriptome for eight stages of regenerating P. flava, revealing significant differential gene expression between regenerating and control animals.
Importantly, we have uncovered developmental steps that are regeneration-specific and do not strictly follow the embryonic program.