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J Embryol Exp Morphol. 1978 Aug;46:119-33.

Electron microscopic studies on the structure of motile primordial germ cells of Xenopus laevis in vitro.


Primordial germ cells (PGCs) of Xenopus laevis have been isolated from early embryos and kept alive in vitro, in order to study the structural basis of their motility, using the transmission and scanning electron microscope. The culture conditions used mimicked as closely as possible the in vivo environment of migrating PGCs, in that isolated PGCs were seeded onto monolayers of amphibian mesentery cells. In these conditions we have demonstrated that: (a) No significant differences were found between the morphology of PGCs in vitro and in vivo. (b) Structural features involved in PGC movement in vitro include (i) the presence of a filamentous substructure, (ii) filipodial and blunt cell processes, (iii) cell surface specializations. These features are also characteristic of migratory PGCs studied in vivo. (c) PGCs in vitro have powers of invasion similar to those of migrating PGCs in vivo. They occasionally become completely surrounded by cells of the monolayer and, in this situation, bear striking resemblance to PGCs moving between mesentery cells to the site of the developing gonad in stage-44 tadpoles. We conclude that as far as it is possible to assess, the behaviour of isolated PGCs in these in vitro conditions mimics their activities in vivo. This allows us to study the ultrastructural basis of their migration.

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