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Tetrapod limb and sarcopterygian fin regeneration share a core genetic programme.


Salamanders are the only living tetrapods capable of fully regenerating limbs. The discovery of salamander lineage-specific genes (LSGs) expressed during limb regeneration suggests that this capacity is a salamander novelty. Conversely, recent paleontological evidence supports a deeper evolutionary origin, before the occurrence of salamanders in the fossil record. Here we show that lungfishes, the sister group of tetrapods, regenerate their fins through morphological steps equivalent to those seen in salamanders. Lungfish de novo transcriptome assembly and differential gene expression analysis reveal notable parallels between lungfish and salamander appendage regeneration, including strong downregulation of muscle proteins and upregulation of oncogenes, developmental genes and lungfish LSGs. MARCKS-like protein (MLP), recently discovered as a regeneration-initiating molecule in salamander, is likewise upregulated during early stages of lungfish fin regeneration. Taken together, our results lend strong support for the hypothesis that tetrapods inherited a bona fide limb regeneration programme concomitant with the fin-to-limb transition.

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