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Dev Growth Differ. 2009 Aug;51(6):567-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-169X.2009.01119.x. Epub 2009 Jul 6.

Heterogeneity of mouse primordial germ cells reflecting the distinct status of their differentiation, proliferation and apoptosis can be classified by the expression of cell surface proteins integrin α6 and c-Kit.

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Cell Resource Center for Biomedical Research, Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer, Tohoku University, Sendai, Miyagi, Japan.


Primordial germ cells (PGCs) in mouse embryos likely include heterogeneous cells having distinct cellular properties. In the present study, we found that heterogeneity of PGCs can be defined by the expression of integrin α6 and c-Kit. The changes in integrin α6 and c-Kit expression in PGCs were obvious as embryonic development progressed, and the PGCs became a mixture of populations consisting of cells with distinct levels of cell surface protein expression. The changes and heterogeneity of cell surface protein expression mainly reflected asynchronous differentiation of PGCs. Apoptosis of PGCs was biased in populations of c-Kit or integrin α6 negative PGCs at particular developmental stages, suggesting possible linkage between PGC apoptosis and the levels of expression of these cell surface proteins. Histochemical analysis confirmed the heterogeneous expression of c-Kit and integrin α6 in PGCs in embryonic gonads, and revealed that PGCs showing different levels of integrin α6 or c-Kit expression and the apoptotic PGCs were scattered and did not show specific localization within gonads. The present study enables us to analyze and isolate populations of living PGCs showing a distinct status of differentiation, or different properties of proliferation or of cell death in individual embryos, and provides a new strategy to examine the mechanisms of PGC development.

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