The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 789 - 797 (2012)

Vol 56, Issue 10-11-12

Special Issue: Female Germ Cells in Development & Tumors

Comparative molecular portraits of human unfertilized oocytes and primordial germ cells at 10 weeks of gestation

Published: 6 February 2013

Ferdinand Diedrichs1, Barbara Mlody1, Peggy Matz1, Heiko Fuchs1,2, Lukas Chavez1, Katharina Drews1 and James Adjaye*,1,2

1Department of Vertebrate Genomics, Molecular Embryology and Aging Group, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany and 2Institute for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine, Medical Faculty, Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany


Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are precursors of gametes and share several features in common with pluripotent stem cells, such as alkaline phosphatase activity and the expression of pluripotency-associated genes such as OCT4 and NANOG. PGCs are able to differ-entiate into oocytes and spermatogonia and establish totipotency after fertilization. However, our knowledge of human germ cell development is still fragmentary. In this study, we have carried out genome-wide comparisons of the transcriptomes and molecular portraits of human male PGCs (mPGCs), female PGCs (fPGCs) and unfertilized oocytes. We detected 9210 genes showing elevated expression in fPGCs, 9184 in mPGCs and 9207 in oocytes, with 6342 of these expressed in common. As well as known germ cell-related genes such as BLIMP1/PRDM1, PIWIL2, VASA/DDX4, DAZL, STELLA/DPPA3 and LIN28, we also identified 465 novel non-annotated genes with orthologs in the mouse. A plethora of olfactory receptor-encoding genes were detected in all samples, which would suggest their involvement not only in sperm chemotaxis, but also in the development of female germ cells and oocytes. We anticipate that our data might increase our meagre knowledge of the genes and associated signaling pathways operative during germ cell development. This in turn might aid in the development of strategies enabling better differentiation and molecular characterisation of germ cells derived from either embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells. Ultimately, this would have a profound relevance for reproductive as well as regenerative medicine.


oocyte, transcriptome, signaling pathway, meiosis, olfactory receptor

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