The laboratory axolotl resource

The mission of AxoBase is to provide one stop web resource for the international research community that are interested in laboratory axolotl research.

Our primary guide for ongoing development of this web resource is the 2020 Axolotl Community White Paper, however, we also welcome community/user feedback.

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Laboratory Axolotl

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Salamanders occupy a pivotal position in the vertebrate evolutionary tree for reconstructing morphological and developmental transitions from fishes to amniotes. Salamanders are tetrapodal and thus share many ancestral features with reptiles and mammals, including internal organs, skeletal elements, cellular components, and the structures of genes and proteins. At the same time, salamanders present novelties not observed in fishes or amniotes that uniquely position them as research models. These novelties include large genome size, paedomorphic development, pre-axial limb development, and a remarkable ability to regenerate body parts throughout life. Salamanders can regenerate their limbs, tail, lens, retina, spinal cord, heart, jaw, neurosensory cells, ovary, and brain.

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Among salamanders, the laboratory axolotl has a deep and storied history as a research model. The laboratory axolotl is a domesticated salamander that was derived from natural axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) collected over 150 years ago from Lake Xochimilco, Mexico. The first laboratory axolotls were imported from Mexico to Paris in 1860s and given to Jardin des Plantes. Axolotls were found to be highly amenable to aquatic laboratory culture because they maintain juvenile morphology throughout life, a mode of development called paedomorphosis. Axolotls generate hundreds of large, transparent embryos that make them ideal for developmental studies and the creation of transgenic and knockout lines. Recent and continuing efforts to develop genetic, genomic, and bioinformatic resources are rapidly advancing axolotl research and a model organism infrastructure that is unified for the first time through axobase.

Most of the axolotls raised in laboratories across the world today are descendants of the original Paris collection and axolotls imported during the 20th century. However, laboratory axolotls differ from natural axolotls because they carry genes from the Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinumi) which was crossed into the primary domesticated stock in 1962. In this sense, laboratory axolotls are a distinct hybrid species.

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Although axolotls are primarily used for studies of regeneration, they also are used in other areas of research, including physiology, neurology, evolution, and development. For example, although axolotls do not typically undergo a metamorphosis and transition to land, this transition can be induced by adding thyroid hormone to axolotl water. Thus, it is possible to use the axolotl to investigate the evolution of paedomorphic development and the effects of thyroid hormone signaling on growth and aging.

While the laboratory axolotl is thriving in captivity, natural axolotls are critically endangered and conservation efforts are underway to sustain a population in their native Xochimilco habitat. More generally, salamanders around the world are facing emerging pathogenic threats. The laboratory axolotl community strongly supports all current and future efforts directed toward the global conservation of salamanders.