The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 43: 349 - 356 (1999)

Vol 43, Issue 4

Characterization of stage-specific embryonic antigen-1 (SSEA-1) expression during early development of the turkey embryo

Published: 1 July 1999

S D'Costa and J N Petitte

Department of Poultry Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh 27695, USA.


SSEA-1 is a carbohydrate epitope associated with cell adhesion, migration and differentiation. In the present study, SSEA-1 expression was characterized during turkey embryogenesis with an emphasis on its role in primordial germ cell development. During hypoblast formation, SSEA-1 positive cells were identified in the blastocoel and hypoblast and later in the germinal crescent. Based on location and morphology, these cells were identified, as PGCs. Germ cells circulating through embryonic blood vessels were also SSEA-1 positive. During the active phase of migration, PGCs in the dorsal mesentery and gonad could no longer be identified using the SSEA-1 antibody. The presence of PGCs at corresponding stages was verified using periodic acid Schiff stain. Pretreatment of PGCs with trypsin, alpha-galactosidase and neuraminidase did not restore immunoreactivity to SSEA-1. In general, expression was not limited to the germ cell lineage. SSEA-1 was also detected on the ectoderm, yolk sac endoderm, gut and mesonephric tubules. During neural tube closure, SSEA-1 was expressed by the neural epithelium of the fusing neural folds. Later SSEA-1 was detected in regions of the developing spinal cord. Enzyme pretreatment unmasked the epitope on some neural crest cells and cells in the sympathetic ganglion. The temporal and spatial distribution of SSEA-1 in the turkey embryo suggests a role in early germ cell and neural cell development. The absence of SSEA-1 on turkey gonadal germ cells was different from that observed for the chick. Therefore, while features of avian germ cell development appear to be conserved, expression of SSEA-1 can vary with the species.

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