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Development. 1999 Dec;126(23):5295-307.

Identification of tissues and patterning events required for distinct steps in early migration of zebrafish primordial germ cells.

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Department of Developmental Biology, Institute of Biology I, University of Freiburg, Hauptstrasse 1, D-79104 Freiburg, Germany.


In many organisms, the primordial germ cells have to migrate from the position where they are specified towards the developing gonad where they generate gametes. Extensive studies of the migration of primordial germ cells in Drosophila, mouse, chick and Xenopus have identified somatic tissues important for this process and demonstrated a role for specific molecules in directing the cells towards their target. In zebrafish, a unique situation is found in that the primordial germ cells, as marked by expression of vasa mRNA, are specified in random positions relative to the future embryonic axis. Hence, the migrating cells have to navigate towards their destination from various starting positions that differ among individual embryos. Here, we present a detailed description of the migration of the primordial germ cells during the first 24 hours of wild-type zebrafish embryonic development. We define six distinct steps of migration bringing the primordial germ cells from their random positions before gastrulation to form two cell clusters on either side of the midline by the end of the first day of development. To obtain information on the origin of the positional cues provided to the germ cells by somatic tissues during their migration, we analyzed the migration pattern in mutants, including spadetail, swirl, chordino, floating head, cloche, knypek and no isthmus. In mutants with defects in axial structures, paraxial mesoderm or dorsoventral patterning, we find that certain steps of the migration process are specifically affected. We show that the paraxial mesoderm is important for providing proper anteroposterior information to the migrating primordial germ cells and that these cells can respond to changes in the global dorsoventral coordinates. In certain mutants, we observe accumulation of ectopic cells in different regions of the embryo. These ectopic cells can retain both morphological and molecular characteristics of primordial germ cells, suggesting that, in zebrafish at the early stages tested, the vasa-expressing cells are committed to the germ cell lineage.

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