The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 62: 513 - 525 (2018)

Vol 62, Issue 6-7-8

Special Issue: Regeneration

The cellular and molecular bases of the sponge stem cell systems underlying reproduction, homeostasis and regeneration

Review | Published: 21 June 2018

Noriko Funayama*

Department of Biophysics, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan


The evolution of multicellular organisms is generally thought (and seems likely) to have been accompanied by the evolution of a stem cell system. Sponges, some of the early-evolved metazoans, have totipotent/pluripotent stem cells. Thus, uncovering the cellular and molecular bases of the sponge stem cells will not only be crucial for understanding the ancestral gene repertoire of animal stem cells, but will also give us clues to understanding the evolution of molecular mechanisms for maintaining multipotency (pluripotency) and differentiation ability during animal evolution. Sponges (Porifera) are a large phylum that includes an enormous number of species, whose cellular compositions and life cycles show striking variations. In the last decade, methodologies for molecular studies and sequencing resources have dramatically advanced and made it possible to clearly define stem cells in sponges in cellular and molecular terms. In this review, together with recent studies of sponges in various classes, the following issues will be discussed: i) recent findings that revealed that the previously proposed model that “archeocytes and choanocytes are the two types of stem cells” originally based on work in demosponges can be applied as a unified view of the stem cell system in sponges that have various cellular organizations, ii) the fact that sponge cells are more plastic than previously thought, as shown by recent studies of sponge regeneration both from dissociated cells and upon injury, and iii) the importance of transdifferentiation in sponge stem cell systems and regeneration.


Archeocyte, choanocyte, epithelial mesenchymal transition, regeneration, transdifferentiation

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