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miRNAs are an important class of non-protein coding small RNAs whose specific functions in animals are rapidly being elucidated. It is clear that miRNAs can play crucial roles in stem cell maintenance, cell fate determination and differentiation. We use planarians, which possess a large population of pluripotent somatic stem cells, as a powerful model system to study many aspects of stem cell biology and regeneration. In particular we wish to investigate the regulatory role miRNAs may have in planarian stem cell self renewal, proliferation and differentiation. Here, we characterized the differential spatial patterns of expression of miRNAs in whole and regenerating planarians by in situ hybridization to nascent miRNA transcripts. These miRNA expression patterns are the first which have been determined for a Lophotrocozoan animal. We have characterized the expression patterns of 42 miRNAs in adult planarians, constituting a complete range of tissue specific expression patterns. We also followed miRNA expression during planarian regeneration. The majority of planarian miRNAs were expressed either in areas where stem cells (neoblasts) are located and/or in the nervous system. Some miRNAs were definitively expressed in stem cells and dividing cells as confirmed by in situ hybridisation after irradiation. We also found miRNAs to be expressed in germ stem cells of the sexual strain. Together, these data suggest an important role for miRNAs in stem cell regulation and in neural cell differentiation in planarians.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Dev Biol

Publication Date





493 - 505


Aging, Animals, Cell Nucleus Shape, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Homeostasis, Male, MicroRNAs, Planarians, Regeneration, Sexual Maturation, Stem Cells, Transcription, Genetic