How Deer Antlers Regrow So Fast Through Gene Control

Greg Howard
22nd April, 2024

How Deer Antlers Regrow So Fast Through Gene Control

Image Source: Mohan Nannapaneni (photographer)

Key Findings

  • Scientists at Changchun Sci-Tech University studied how deer antlers rapidly regenerate
  • They found that a microRNA called miR-140-3p is crucial for the quick formation of cartilage in antler growth
  • The study revealed a feedback loop where a protein (Prrx1) and miR-140-3p regulate each other to balance cell growth and differentiation
Deer antlers are a marvel of nature, capable of completely regenerating every year. This phenomenon has captured the attention of scientists at Changchun Sci-Tech University, who are trying to unravel the mysteries behind this rapid regrowth process. Their latest findings could have implications not only for understanding animal biology but also for advancing human medicine, particularly in the field of tissue regeneration and repair[1]. Antlers are formed from a group of cells known as reserve mesenchyme (RM) cells, which originate from periosteal cells that express a protein called paired related homeobox 1 (Prrx1). Prior studies have indicated that these periosteal cells, or antler stem cells, are key players in the regeneration process[2]. They have the ability to differentiate into various cell types, including those that form bone and cartilage. However, the exact mechanisms that drive the rapid formation of cartilage, or chondrogenesis, during antler growth remained unknown until now. The researchers at Changchun Sci-Tech University have discovered that a specific microRNA, miR-140-3p, is significantly upregulated during the antler's growth phase. MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNA molecules that play a crucial role in regulating gene expression. The team analyzed miRNA expression profiles and chromatin states across three different tissue layers within the antler growth center at various stages of differentiation. They found that miR-140-3p levels increased from the RM layer to the cartilage layer, suggesting its importance in the chondrogenesis of antler tissue. Further investigation revealed that Prrx1 is a key upstream regulator of miR-140-3p. Using a technique called CUT&Tag sequencing, they were able to confirm the relationship between Prrx1 and miR-140-3p in RM cells. The study demonstrated that there is a reciprocal negative feedback loop between Prrx1 and miR-140-3p in the antler growth center. This means that as Prrx1 levels decrease, miR-140-3p levels increase, which in turn promotes the rapid chondrogenesis necessary for antler regeneration. To validate their findings, the researchers employed both three-dimensional chondrogenic culture and a xenogeneic antler model. These methods allowed them to observe the effects of manipulating Prrx1 and miR-140-3p levels on the chondrogenesis of RM cells. They found that reducing Prrx1 levels while increasing miR-140-3p levels indeed accelerated the process of forming cartilage. These findings are significant as they not only enhance the understanding of antler regeneration but also provide insights into the regulation of cartilage formation, which could be beneficial for human health. Conditions such as osteoarthritis involve the degeneration of cartilage, and understanding how to regenerate this tissue could lead to new treatment strategies. Previous studies have shown the role of various factors like Galectin-1 and TGF-β1 in antler regeneration and rapid growth, highlighting the complex network of molecules involved in this process[3][4]. The implications of the study from Changchun Sci-Tech University extend beyond deer. By shedding light on the molecular interactions that govern rapid cartilage growth, these findings could inform approaches to repairing human cartilage and treating joint diseases. The study builds upon earlier research that has characterized the unique bone regeneration capabilities of deer antlers and the specific types of collagen expressed during their growth[5]. It also clarifies the nature of antler regeneration, supporting the idea that it is a stem cell-based process rather than one initiated by a blastema[2]. In summary, the reciprocal negative feedback mechanism between Prrx1 and miR-140-3p discovered by the researchers is essential for balancing the proliferation and differentiation of mesenchymal cells in the regenerating antler. This mechanism provides a new reference point for understanding human cartilage regeneration and repair, potentially paving the way for innovative treatments in regenerative medicine.

BiotechGeneticsAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Reciprocal negative feedback between Prrx1 and miR-140-3p regulates rapid chondrogenesis in the regenerating antler

Published 20th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Histological examination of antler regeneration in red deer (Cervus elaphus).

Journal: The anatomical record. Part A, Discoveries in molecular, cellular, and evolutionary biology, Issue: Vol 282, Issue 2, Feb 2005

3) Galectin-1 promotes angiogenesis and chondrogenesis during antler regeneration.

4) The effects of CRISPR-Cas9 knockout of the TGF-β1 gene on antler cartilage cells in vitro.

5) Chondrogenesis in the regenerating antler tip in red deer: expression of collagen types I, IIA, IIB, and X demonstrated by in situ nucleic acid hybridization and immunocytochemistry.

Journal: Developmental dynamics : an official publication of the American Association of Anatomists, Issue: Vol 205, Issue 3, Mar 1996

Related Articles

An unhandled error has occurred. Reload 🗙