The insulin-like growth factors are broadly distributed in the human conceptus and are thought to play a role in the growth and differentiation of tissues during development. Using in situ hybridization we have shown that a wide variety of specific cell types within tissues express the gene for insulin-like growth factor II at times of development from 18 days to 14 weeks of gestation. Examination of blastocysts produced by in vitro fertilization showed no expression, thus bracketing the time of first accumulation of IGF-II mRNA to between 5 and 18 days postfertilization. The pattern of IGF-II expression shows specific age-related differences in different tissues. In the kidney, for example, expression is found in the cells of the metanephric blastema which is dramatically reduced as the blastema differentiates. The reverse is also seen, and we have noted an increase in expression of IGF-II in the cytotrophoblast layer of the placenta with gestational age. The sites of expression do not correlate with areas of either high mitotic activity or specific types of differentiation, but the observed pattern of expression in the kidney, adrenal glands and liver suggests an explanation for the abnormally high IGF-II mRNA expression in developmental tumours such as Wilms' tumour.

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