Silencing the SPINK-related gene Kazal1 in hydra gland cells induces an excessive autophagy of both gland and digestive cells, leading to animal death. Moreover, during regeneration, autophagosomes are immediately detected in regenerating tips, where Kazal1 expression is lowered. When Kazal1 is completely silenced, hydra no longer survive the amputation stress (Chera S, de Rosa R, Miljkovic-Licina M, Dobretz K, Ghila L, Kaloulis K, Galliot B. Silencing of the hydra serine protease inhibitor Kazal1 gene mimics the human Spink1 pancreatic phenotype. J Cell Sci 2006; 119:846-57). These results highlight the essential digestive and cytoprotective functions played by Kazal1 in hydra. In mammals, autophagy of exocrine pancreatic cells is also induced upon SPINK1/Spink3 inactivation, whereas Spink3 is activated in injured pancreatic cells. Hence SPINKs, by preventing an excessive autophagy, appear to act as key players of the stress-induced self-preservation program. In hydra, this program is a prerequisite to the early cellular transition, whereby digestive cells of the regenerating tips transform into a head-organizer center. Enhancing the self-preservation program in injured tissues might therefore be the condition for unmasking their potential cell and/or developmental plasticity.
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