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Curr Top Dev Biol. 2000;50:155-81.

Germ plasm and molecular determinants of germ cell fate.

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Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Miami School of Medicine, Florida 33101, USA.


One mechanism for the specification of cell types during embryonic development is the cytoplasmic localization of determinants in the egg into certain blastomeres. Primordial germ cell (PGC) development in many organisms is characterized by the inheritance of germ plasm, a cytologically distinct assembly of mitochondria and electron-dense germinal granules. This chapter reviews the structure of germ plasm and the experimental evidence for its importance in PGC specification in Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, and Xenopus. It then compares and contrasts recent data on the identification of germ plasm components in these organisms. Many components are potentially RNA-binding proteins, implicating the regulation of RNA metabolism, transport, and translation as critical processes in PGC development. Germ plasm components also mediate transcriptional repression, regulate migration, and control mitotic divisions in PGCs. The chapter concludes with a discussion on the general roles of germ plasm components and how they might act to specify PGC fate.

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