Planarian species may harbor as many as three populations with different reproductive strategies. Animals from innate asexual (AS) and innate sexual (InS) populations reproduce only by fission and cross-fertilization, respectively, whereas the third population switches seasonally between the two reproductive modes. AS worms can be experimentally sexualized by feeding them with minced InS worms; we termed the resulting animals "acquired sexual" (AqS) worms. Both AqS and InS worms exhibit sexualizing activity when used as feed, suggesting that they maintain their sexual state via endogenous sexualizing substances, although the mechanisms underlying determination of reproductive strategy and sexual switching in these metazoans remain enigmatic. Therefore, we compared the endogenous sexualizing activity of InS worms and AqS worms. First, we amputated mature worms and assessed if they could re-enter a sexual state. Regenerants of InS worms, but not AqS worms, were only sexual, indicating that sexual state regulation comprises two steps: (1) autonomous initiation of sexualizing substance production and (2) maintenance of the sexual state by continuous production of sexualizing substances. Next, InS neoblasts were characterized by transplantation, finding that they successfully engrafted, proliferated, and replaced all recipient cells. Under such conditions, the AS recipients of InS worm neoblasts, but not those of AqS worms, became sexual. These results clearly show that there is a neoblast-autonomous determination of reproductive strategy in planarians.
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