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Dev Biol. 2007 Jun 15;306(2):599-611. Epub 2007 Apr 1.

Vasa unveils a common origin of germ cells and of somatic stem cells from the posterior growth zone in the polychaete Platynereis dumerilii.

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Institute of Zoology, Philipps University Marburg, Karl von Frisch Strasse 8, 35032 Marburg, Germany.


To elucidate the evolution of germ cell specification in Metazoa, recent comparative studies focus on ancestral animal groups. Here, we followed the germline throughout the life cycle of the polychaete annelid Platynereis dumerilii, by examining mRNA and protein expression of vasa and other germline-specific factors in combination with lineage tracing experiments. In the fertilised egg, maternal Vasa protein localises to the yolk-free cytoplasm at the animal pole. It then asymmetrically segregates first into the micromeres, then into the founder cells of the mesodermal posterior growth zone (MPGZ). Vasa transcripts initially show ubiquitous distribution, but then become progressively restricted to the MPGZ. The cells of the MPGZ are highly proliferative, as evidenced by BrdU pulse labelling experiments. Besides vasa, they express nanos along with the stem cell-specific genes piwi, and PL10. At 4 days of development, four primordial germ cells are singled out from within the MPGZ, and migrate into the anterior segments to colonise a newly discovered "primary gonad". Our data suggest a common origin of germ cells and of somatic stem cells, similar to the situation found in planarians and cnidarians, which may constitute the ancestral mode of germ cell specification in Metazoa.

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