Primordial Germ Cells: What Does It Take to Be Alive?

Laura L. Tres, Carolina Rosselot, Abraham L. Kierszenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Specification of primordial germ cells (PGCs) in the proximal epiblast enables about 45 founder PGCs clustered at the base of the allantoic bud to enter the embryo by active cell movement. Specification of the PGC lineage depends on paracrine signals derived from the somatic cell neighbors in the extraembryonic ectoderm. Secretory bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) 4, BMP8b, and BMP2 and components of the Smad signaling pathway participate in the specification of PGCs. Cells in the extraembryonic ectoderm induce expression of the gene fragilis in the epiblast in the presence of BMP4, targeting competence of PGCs. The fragilis gene encodes a family of transmembrane proteins presumably involved in homotypic cell adhesion. As PGCs migrate throughout the hindgut, they express nanos3 protein. In the absence of nanos3 gene expression, no germ cells are detected in ovary and testis. During migration and upon arrival at the genital ridges, the population of PGCs is regulated by a balanced proliferation/programmed cell death or apoptosis. Paracrine and autocrine mechanisms, involving transforming growth factor-β1 and fibroblast growth factors exert stimulatory or inhibitory effects on PGCs proliferation, modulated in part by the membrane-bound form of stem cell factor. Apoptosis requires the participation of the pro-apoptotic family member Bax, whose activity is balanced by the anti-apoptotic family member Bcl21/Bcl-x. In addition, a loss of cell-cell contacts in vitro results in the apoptotic elimination of PGCs. It needs to be determined whether apoptosis is triggered by a failure of PGC to establish and maintain appropriate cell-cell contacts with somatic cells or whether undefined survival factors released by adjacent somatic cells cannot reach physiological levels to satisfy needs of the expanding population of PGCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalMolecular Reproduction and Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Fragilis
  • Nanos
  • Stella
  • Stem cell factor


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