African spiny mice, specifically the species Acomys kempi and Acomys percivali, have skin that is brittle and can be easily torn. This evolutionary adaptation allows them to escape predators by jettisoning whole patches of skin when caught or bitten.
The scientists published their findings in the journal Nature. The tiny mammals are the first that can completely regenerate damaged tissue. This could potentially help with healing in humans.
The mice can regrow complete suites of hair follicles, skin, sweat glands, fur and even cartilage. Normal laboratory mice (Mus musculus) grow scar tissue in this situation. While tissue regeneration is common in crustaceans, insects, reptiles, and amphibians, it hasn’t been seen before in mammals. Salamanders can regenerate entire limbs, complete with bones and muscles.
The next step involves figuring out the exact molecular mechanisms and genetic circuits that cause and direct the regeneration process. It’s unlikely that these mice evolved an entirely new method of regrowing tissue, states Ashley Seifert, lead author and a developmental biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The genes responsible are probably switched off in mammals, but have been switched back on in the African spiny mice.
The switch could possibly be turned on in humans to help with various types of healing if scientists figure out how the process works. Genomic resources are so powerful these days that it’s entirely feasible that someone could identify some aspect of regeneration in mice that could be used in humans.