Ny: Nevin Witman
Opponent: Thomas Braun. Max Planck Institute and Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen.
Host: Jamie Morrison

Unlike mammals, adult salamanders possess an intrinsic ability to regenerate complex organs and tissue types, making them an exciting and useful model to study tissue regeneration. The aims of this thesis are two fold, (1) to develop and characterize a reproducible cardiac regeneration model system in the newt, and (2) to decipher the cellular and molecular underpinnings involved in regeneration.
In Paper I of this thesis we developed a novel and reproducible heart regeneration model system in the red-spotted newt and demonstrated for the first time the newt’s ability to regenerate functional myocardial muscle, following resection injury, without scarring. The observed findings coincide with an increase in several developmental cardiac transcription factors, wide-spread cellular proliferation of cardiomyocytes and non-cardiomyocyte populations in the ventricle and reverse-remodeling at later time points during regeneration. Of further interest was the identification of functionally active Islet1+ve and GATA4+ve cardiac precursor cells in regenerating areas. The observation of such cell types further compels the similarity between mammalian cardiac development and newt cardiac regeneration and justifies these animals as suitable model organisms for studying heart regeneration. In Paper II we wanted to decipher the molecular cues possibly driving cardiac regeneration in newts. Here we used qualitative and quantitative methods to delineate the function microRNAs (miRNAs) have in this process. One interesting candidate, miR-128, a known tumor suppressor miRNA and regulator of myogenesis, was found to have a regulatory role in controlling non-cardiomyocyte hyperplasia during newt cardiac regeneration. Of further interest was the discovery of a novel binding site of miR-128 in the 3’UTR of Islet1. We speculate that the natural increase in miR-128 expression levels during cardiac regeneration functions as a fine-tuning mechanism to control cellular proliferation of precursor cells. In Paper III of my thesis we sought to explore if a link exists between RNA editing, a wide-spread post-transcriptional process and regeneration. We observed that A-to-I editing enzymes (ADARs) are present in regenerating newt tissues and the localization of ADAR1 alternates between nuclear and cytoplasmic compartments during regeneration. This activity of ADAR1 during regeneration may be partly responsible for driving the cellular plasticity that is needed during multiple phases of tissue regeneration in the red-spotted newt.