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Heterogeneity of planarian stem cells has been categorised on the basis of single cell expression analyses and subsequent experiments to demonstrate lineage relationships. Some data suggest that despite heterogeneity in gene expression amongst cells in the cell cycle, in fact only one sub-population, known as sigma neoblasts, can self-renew. Without the tools to perform live in vivo lineage analysis, we instead took an alternative approach to provide independent evidence for defining the self-renewing stem cell population. We exploited the role of highly conserved condensin family genes to functionally assay neoblast self-renewal properties. Condensins are involved in forming properly condensed chromosomes to allow cell division to proceed during mitosis, and their abrogation inhibits mitosis and can lead to repeated endoreplication of the genome in cells that make repeated attempts to divide. We find that planarians possess only the condensin I complex, and that this is required for normal stem cell function. Abrogation of condensin function led to rapid stem cell depletion accompanied by the appearance of 'giant' cells with increased DNA content. Using previously discovered markers of heterogeneity we show that enlarged cells are always from the sigma-class of the neoblast population and we never observe evidence for endoreplication for the other neoblast subclasses. Overall, our data establish that condensins are essential for stem cell maintenance and provide independent evidence that only sigma-neoblasts are capable of multiple rounds of cell division and hence self-renewal.

Original publication




Journal article


Developmental biology

Publication Date



Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tinbergen Building, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, United Kingdom.