Adult planarians can grow when fed and degrow (shrink) when starved while maintaining their whole-body shape. It is unknown how the morphogens patterning the planarian axes are coordinated during feeding and starvation or how they modulate the necessary differential tissue growth or degrowth. Here, we investigate the dynamics of planarian shape together with a theoretical study of the mechanisms regulating whole-body proportions and shape. We found that the planarian body proportions scale isometrically following similar linear rates during growth and degrowth, but that fed worms are significantly wider than starved worms. By combining a descriptive model of planarian shape and size with a mechanistic model of anterior-posterior and medio-lateral signaling calibrated with a novel parameter optimization methodology, we theoretically demonstrate that the feedback loop between these positional information signals and the shape they control can regulate the planarian whole-body shape during growth. Furthermore, the computational model produced the correct shape and size dynamics during degrowth as a result of a predicted increase in apoptosis rate and pole signal during starvation. These results offer mechanistic insights into the dynamic regulation of whole-body morphologies.

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