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Concept: Germ cell


As with many anti-cancer drugs, the topoisomerase II inhibitor etoposide is considered safe for administration to women in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, but assessment of effects on the developing fetus have been limited. The purpose of this research was to examine the effect of etoposide on germ cells in the developing ovary. Mouse ovary tissue culture was used as the experimental model, thus allowing us to examine effects of etoposide on all stages of germ cell development in the same way, in vitro.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Embryo, Chemotherapy, Cellular differentiation, Puberty, Germ cell


Dynamic epigenetic reprogramming occurs during mammalian germ cell development, although the targets of this process, including DNA demethylation and de novo methylation, remain poorly understood. We performed genome-wide DNA methylation analysis in male and female mouse primordial germ cells at embryonic day 10.5, 13.5, and 16.5 by whole-genome shotgun bisulfite sequencing. Our high-resolution DNA methylome maps demonstrated gender-specific differences in CpG methylation at genome-wide and gene-specific levels during fetal germline progression. There was extensive intra- and intergenic hypomethylation with erasure of methylation marks at imprinted, X-linked, or germline-specific genes during gonadal sex determination and partial methylation at particular retrotransposons. Following global demethylation and sex determination, CpG sites switched to de novo methylation in males, but the X-linked genes appeared resistant to the wave of de novo methylation. Significant differential methylation at a subset of imprinted loci was identified in both genders and non-CpG methylation occurred only in male gonocytes. Our data establish the basis for future studies on the role of epigenetic modifications in germline development and other biological processes.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Male, Epigenetics, Sex, DNA methylation, Germ cell


Previous studies have revealed that mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) undergo genome-wide DNA methylation reprogramming to reset the epigenome for totipotency. However, the precise 5-methylcytosine (5mC) dynamics and its relationship with the generation of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5hmC) are not clear. Here we analyzed the dynamics of 5mC and 5hmC during PGC reprograming and germ cell development. Unexpectedly, we found a specific period (E8.5-9.5) during which both 5mC and 5hmC levels are low. Subsequently, 5hmC levels increase reaching its peak at E11.5 and gradually decrease until E13.5 likely by replication-dependent dilution. Interestingly, 5hmC is enriched in chromocenters during this period. While this germ cell-specific 5hmC subnuclear localization pattern is maintained in female germ cells even in mature oocytes, such pattern is gradually lost in male germ cells as mitotic proliferation resumes during the neonatal stage. Pericentric 5hmC plays an important role in silencing major satellite repeat, especially in female PGCs. Global transcriptome analysis by RNA-seq revealed that the great majority of differentially expressed genes from E9.5 to 13.5 are upregulated in both male and female PGCs. Although only female PGCs enter meiosis during the prenatal stage, meiosis-related and a subset of imprinted genes are significantly upregulated in both male and female PGCs at E13.5. Thus, our study not only reveals the dynamics of 5mC and 5hmC during PGC reprogramming and germ cell development, but also their potential role in epigenetic reprogramming and transcriptional regulation of meiotic and imprinted genes.Cell Research advance online publication 12 February 2013; doi:10.1038/cr.2013.22.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Epigenetics, Cellular differentiation, DNA methylation, Meiosis, Germ cell


Analgesics which affect prostaglandin (PG) pathways are used by most pregnant women. As germ cells (GC) undergo developmental and epigenetic changes in fetal life and are PG targets, we investigated if exposure of pregnant rats to analgesics (indomethacin or acetaminophen) affected GC development and reproductive function in resulting offspring (F1) or in the F2 generation. Exposure to either analgesic reduced F1 fetal GC number in both sexes and altered the tempo of fetal GC development sex-dependently, with delayed meiotic entry in oogonia but accelerated GC differentiation in males. These effects persisted in adult F1 females as reduced ovarian and litter size, whereas F1 males recovered normal GC numbers and fertility by adulthood. F2 offspring deriving from an analgesic-exposed F1 parent also exhibited sex-specific changes. F2 males exhibited normal reproductive development whereas F2 females had smaller ovaries and reduced follicle numbers during puberty/adulthood; as similar changes were found for F2 offspring of analgesic-exposed F1 fathers or mothers, we interpret this as potentially indicating an analgesic-induced change to GC in F1. Assuming our results are translatable to humans, they raise concerns that analgesic use in pregnancy could potentially affect fertility of resulting daughters and grand-daughters.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Human, Reproduction, Embryo, Fertility, Abortion, Puberty, Germ cell


Maternal and paternal high-fat (HF) diet intake before and/or during pregnancy increases mammary cancer risk in several preclinical models. We studied if maternal consumption of a HF diet that began at a time when the fetal primordial germ cells travel to the genital ridge and start differentiating into germ cells would result in a transgenerational inheritance of increased mammary cancer risk.

Concepts: Gene, Pregnancy, Nutrition, Fatty acids, Essential fatty acid, Meiosis, Germ cells, Germ cell


In vitro generation of functional gametes is a promising approach for treating infertility, although faithful replication of meiosis has proven to be a substantial obstacle to deriving haploid gamete cells in culture. Here we report complete in vitro meiosis from embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived primordial germ cells (PGCLCs). Co-culture of PGCLCs with neonatal testicular somatic cells and sequential exposure to morphogens and sex hormones reproduced key hallmarks of meiosis, including erasure of genetic imprinting, chromosomal synapsis and recombination, and correct nuclear DNA and chromosomal content in the resulting haploid cells. Intracytoplasmic injection of the resulting spermatid-like cells into oocytes produced viable and fertile offspring, showing that this robust stepwise approach can functionally recapitulate male gametogenesis in vitro. These findings provide a platform for investigating meiotic mechanisms and the potential generation of human haploid spermatids in vitro.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Chromosome, Meiosis, Chromosomal crossover, Gamete, Germ cells, Germ cell


In this work we use TALE nucleases (TALENs) to target a reporter construct to the DDX4 (vasa) locus in chicken primordial germ cells. Vasa is a key germ cell determinant in many animal species and is posited to control avian germ cell formation. We show that TALENs mediate homology directed repair of the DDX4 locus on the Z sex chromosome at high (8.1%) efficiencies. Large genetic deletions of 30kb encompassing the entire DDX4 locus were also created using a single TALEN pair. The targeted PGCs were germ line competent and were used to produce DDX4 null offspring. In DDX4 knockout chickens, PGCs are initially formed but are lost during meiosis in the developing ovary leading to adult female sterility. TALEN-mediated gene targeting in avian primordial germ cells is therefore an efficient process.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Archaea, Eukaryote, Chromosome, Meiosis, Germ cell


A sizable fraction of testicular germ cell tumour (TGCT) risk is expected to be explained by heritable factors. Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have successfully identified a number of common SNPs associated with TGCT. It is however, unclear how much common variation there is left to be accounted for by other, yet to be identified, common SNPs and what contribution common genetic variation makes to the heritable risk of TGCT. We approached this question using two complimentary analytical techniques. We undertook a population-based analysis of the Swedish family-cancer database, through which we estimated that the heritability of TGCT at 48.9% (CI:47.2%-52.3%). We also applied Genome-Wide Complex Trait Analysis to 922 cases and 4,842 controls to estimate the heritability of TGCT. The heritability explained by known common risk SNPs identified by GWAS was 9.1%, whereas the heritability explained by all common SNPs was 37.4% (CI:27.6%-47.2%). These complementary findings indicate that the known TGCT SNPs only explain a small proportion of the heritability and many additional common SNPs remain to be identified. The data also suggests that a fraction of the heritability of TGCT is likely to be explained by other classes of genetic variation, such as rare disease-causing alleles.

Concepts: DNA, Scientific method, Gene, Genetics, Genome-wide association study, Germ cell tumor, Heritability, Germ cell


Reconstituting gametogenesis in vitro is a key goal for reproductive biology and regenerative medicine. Successful in vitro reconstitution of primordial germ cells and spermatogenesis has recently had a significant effect in the field. However, recapitulation of oogenesis in vitro remains unachieved. Here we demonstrate the first reconstitution, to our knowledge, of the entire process of mammalian oogenesis in vitro from primordial germ cells, using an estrogen-receptor antagonist that promotes normal follicle formation, which in turn is crucial for supporting oocyte growth. The fundamental events in oogenesis (i.e., meiosis, oocyte growth, and genomic imprinting) were reproduced in the culture system. The most rigorous evidence of the recapitulation of oogenesis was the birth of fertile offspring, with a maximum of seven pups obtained from a cultured gonad. Moreover, cryopreserved gonads yielded functional oocytes and offspring in this culture system. Thus, our in vitro system will enable both innovative approaches for a deeper understanding of oogenesis and a new avenue to create and preserve female germ cells.

Concepts: Gene, Reproductive system, Meiosis, Spermatogenesis, Gamete, Germ cells, Germ cell, Oogenesis


Reconstitution of female germ-cell development in vitro is a key challenge in reproductive biology and medicine. We show here that female (XX) embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells in mice are induced into primordial germ cell-like cells (PGCLCs), which, when aggregated with female gonadal somatic cells as reconstituted ovaries, undergo X-reactivation, imprint erasure, cyst formation, and exhibit meiotic potential. Upon transplantation under mouse ovarian bursa, PGCLCs in the reconstituted ovaries mature into germinal vesicle-stage oocytes, which then contribute to fertile offspring after in vitro maturation and fertilization. Our culture system serves as a robust foundation for the investigation of key properties of female germ cells, including the acquisition of totipotency, and for the reconstitution of whole female germ-cell development in vitro.

Concepts: Gene, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cellular differentiation, Embryonic stem cell, Meiosis, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Germ cell