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Reproduction. 2006 Nov;132(5):699-707.

Germ cells from mouse and human embryonic stem cells.

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  • 1Centre for Stem Cell Biology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2UH, UK.


Mammalian gametes are derived from a founder population of primordial germ cells (PGCs) that are determined early in embryogenesis and set aside for unique development. Understanding the mechanisms of PGC determination and differentiation is important for elucidating causes of infertility and how endocrine disrupting chemicals may potentially increase susceptibility to congenital reproductive abnormalities and conditions such as testicular cancer in adulthood (testicular dysgenesis syndrome). Primordial germ cells are closely related to embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and embryonic germ (EG) cells and comparisons between these cell types are providing new information about pluripotency and epigenetic processes. Murine ESCs can differentiate to PGCs, gametes and even blastocysts - recently live mouse pups were born from sperm generated from mESCs. Although investigations are still preliminary, human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) apparently display a similar developmental capacity to generate PGCs and immature gametes. Exactly how such gamete-like cells are generated during stem cell culture remains unclear especially as in vitro conditions are ill-defined. The findings are discussed in relation to the mechanisms of human PGC and gamete development and the biotechnology of hESCs and hEG cells.

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