Platyhelminthes are widely considered to be the sister group of coelomates (Philippe, H., Chenuil, A. and Adoutte, A. (1994)Development 1994 Supplement, 15–24) and the first organisms to show bilateral symmetry and cephalization. Within this phylum, the freshwater planarians (Turbellaria, Tricladida) have been used as model systems for studying bidirectional regeneration (Slack, J. M. W. (1980) J. Theor. Biol 82, 105–140). We have been attempting to identify potential pattern-control genes involved in the regeneration of planarian heads and tails after amputation. Since Hox cluster genes determine positional identity along the anteroposterior axis in a wide range of animals (Slack, J. M. W., Holland, P. W. H. and Graham, C. F. (1993) Nature 361,490-492), we performed an extensive search for Hox-related genes in the planarian Dugesia(G)tigrina. Sequence analyses of seven planarian Dthox genes (Dthox-A to Dthox-G) reveal high similarities with the homeodomain region of the Hox cluster genes, allowing us to assign planarian Dthox genes to anterior and medial Hox cluster paralogous groups. Whole-mount in situ hybridization studies in regenerating adults showed very early, synchronous and colocalized activation of Dthox-D, Dthox-A, Dthox-C, Dthox-E, Dthox-G and Dthox-F. After one hour of regeneration a clear expression was observed in all Dthox genes studied. In addition, all seemed to be expressed in the same regenerative tissue, although in the last stages of regeneration (9 to 15 days) a differential timing of deactivation was observed. The same Dthox genes were also expressed synchronously and were colocalized during intercalary regeneration, although their expression was delayed. Terminal regeneration showed identical Dthox gene expression in anterior and posterior blastemas, which may prevent these genes from directing the distinction between head and tail. Finally, continuous expression along the whole lateral blastema in sagittal regenerates reflected a ubiquitous Dthox response in all types of regeneration that was not related specifically with the anteroposterior polarity.

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