Int. J. Dev. Biol. 45: 541 - 548 (2001)
© UPV/EHU Press

Differentiation of mouse primordial germ cells into female or male germ cells.

N Nakatsuji and S Chuma

Department of Development and Differentiation, Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, Kyoto University, Japan. nnakatsu@frontier.kyoto-u.ac.jp

ABSTRACT Mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) migrate from the base of the allantois to the genital ridge. They proliferate both during migration and after their arrival, until initiation of the sex-differentiation of fetal gonads. Then, PGCs enter into the prophase of the first meiotic division in the ovary to become oocytes, while those in the testis become mitotically arrested to become prospermatogonia. Growth regulation of mouse PGCs has been studied by culturing them on feeder cells. They show a limited period of proliferation in vitro and go into growth arrest, which is in good correlation with their developmental changes in vivo. However, in the presence of multiple growth signals, PGCs can restart rapid proliferation and transform into pluripotent embryonic germ (EG) cells. Observation of ectopic germ cells and studies of reaggregate cultures suggested that both male and female PGCs show cell-autonomous entry into meiosis and differentiation into oocytes if they were set apart from the male gonadal environments. Recently, we developed a two-dimensional dispersed culture system in which we can examine transition from the mitotic PGCs into the leptotene stage of the first meiotic division. Such entry into meiosis seems to be programmed in PGCs before reaching the genital ridges and unless it is inhibited by putative signals from the testicular somatic cells.