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Differentiation. 2010 Mar;79(3):131-40. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2009.11.003.

On the formation of germ cells: The good, the bad and the ugly.

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Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Leiden University Medical Center, 2300 ZC Leiden, The Netherlands.


Mammalian germ cells are powerful cells, the only ones that transmit information to the next generation ensuring the continuation of the species. But "with great power, comes great responsibility", meaning that germ cells are only a few steps away from turning carcinogenic. Despite recent advances little is known about germ cell formation in mammals, predominantly because of the inaccessibility of these cells. Moreover, it is difficult to pin down what in essence is characteristic of a germ cell, as germ cells keep changing place, morphology, expression markers and epigenetic identity. Formation of (primordial) germ cells in primate ES cell cultures would therefore be helpful to identify molecular signalling pathways associated with germ cell differentiation and to study epigenetic changes in germ cells. In addition, the in vitro derivation of functional germ cells from ES cells could be used in combination with therapeutic cloning to generate patient-specific ES cell lines, and can have applications in animal breeding. In this review we present the state-of-the-art on how mouse and human germ cells are formed in vivo (the good), we discuss the link between germ cells, pluripotency and germ cell tumours (the bad) and show that despite continuous progress in trying to differentiate germ cells in vitro (the ugly) the generation of functional germ cells is still a real challenge.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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