New, practical models of central nervous system regeneration are required and should provide molecular tools and resources. We focus here on the tunicate Ciona intestinalis, which has the capacity to regenerate nerves and a complete adult central nervous system, a capacity unusual in the chordate phylum. We investigated the timing and sequence of events during nervous system regeneration in this organism.
We developed techniques for reproducible ablations and for imaging live cellular events in tissue explants. Based on live observations of more than 100 regenerating animals, we subdivided the regeneration process into four stages. Regeneration was functional, as shown by the sequential recovery of reflexes that established new criteria for defining regeneration rates. We used transgenic animals and labeled nucleotide analogs to describe in detail the early cellular events at the tip of the regenerating nerves and the first appearance of the new adult ganglion anlage.
The rate of regeneration was found to be negatively correlated with adult size. New neural structures were derived from the anterior and posterior nerve endings. A blastemal structure was implicated in the formation of new neural cells. This work demonstrates that Ciona intestinalis is as a useful system for studies on regeneration of the brain, brain-associated organs and nerves.