PLoS genetics

Licensing of primordial germ cells for gametogenesis depends on genital ridge signaling.

PMID 25739037


In mouse embryos at mid-gestation, primordial germ cells (PGCs) undergo licensing to become gametogenesis-competent cells (GCCs), gaining the capacity for meiotic initiation and sexual differentiation. GCCs then initiate either oogenesis or spermatogenesis in response to gonadal cues. Germ cell licensing has been considered to be a cell-autonomous and gonad-independent event, based on observations that some PGCs, having migrated not to the gonad but to the adrenal gland, nonetheless enter meiosis in a time frame parallel to ovarian germ cells -- and do so regardless of the sex of the embryo. Here we test the hypothesis that germ cell licensing is cell-autonomous by examining the fate of PGCs in Gata4 conditional mutant (Gata4 cKO) mouse embryos. Gata4, which is expressed only in somatic cells, is known to be required for genital ridge initiation. PGCs in Gata4 cKO mutants migrated to the area where the genital ridge, the precursor of the gonad, would ordinarily be formed. However, these germ cells did not undergo licensing and instead retained characteristics of PGCs. Our results indicate that licensing is not purely cell-autonomous but is induced by the somatic genital ridge.