Control of cell number is crucial to define body size during animal development and to restrict tumoral transformation. The cell number is determined by the balance between cell proliferation and cell death. Although many genes are known to regulate those processes, the molecular mechanisms underlying the relationship between cell number and body size remain poorly understood. This relationship can be better understood by studying planarians, flatworms that continuously change their body size according to nutrient availability. We identified a novel gene family, blitzschnell (bls), which consists of de novo and taxonomically restricted genes that control cell proliferation:cell death ratio. Their silencing promotes faster regeneration and increases cell number during homeostasis. Importantly, this increase in cell number only leads to an increase in body size in a nutrient-rich environment; in starved planarians silencing results in a decrease in cell size and cell accumulation that ultimately produces overgrowths. bls expression is down-regulated after feeding and related with the Insulin/Akt/mTOR network activity, suggesting that the bls family evolved in planarians as an additional mechanism by which to restrict cell number in nutrient-fluctuating environments.
- Body size
- Cell number