Regeneration or scarring: An immunologic perspective

Mark Harty, Anton W. Neff, Michael W. King, Anthony L. Mescher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

185 Scopus citations


Complete regeneration of complex tissues and organs is usually precluded by fibrotic reactions that lead to scarring. Fish, salamanders, and larval anurans are among the few vertebrates capable of regenerating lost appendages, and this process seems to recapitulate ontogenic development of the structure in most respects. Recent work has revealed a capacity for excellent regeneration in certain mammalian tissues: embryonic or fetal skin and the ear of the MRL mouse. Analyses of these two systems suggest that processes of regenerative growth and patterning for the formation of new structures such as hair follicles may involve modulation of the inflammatory response to the injury in a way that reduces fibrosis and formation of scar tissue. We review evidence that this modulation includes changes in cytokine signaling and may involve properties of the extracellular matrix mediated by factors that include hyaluronic acid and "anti-adhesive substrates" such as tenascin-C. New studies and classic work on the capacity for limb regeneration in amphibians are then reviewed, focusing on the loss of this ability in prometamorphic anuran hindlimbs and the view that changing properties of the immune system may also underlie the declining regenerative potential in this system. Finally, we review recent work in comparative and developmental immunology, which raises the possibility that phylogenetic changes in regenerative capacity may be the result of evolutionary changes in cellular activities of the immune system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-279
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Dynamics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2003


  • Cytokine
  • Immune
  • Metamorphosis
  • Regeneration
  • Scar
  • Wound
  • Xenopus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology

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