We have determined the timing of the inactivation and reactivation of the X chromosome in the mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) by monitoring the expression of an X-linked HMG-lacZ reporter gene. PGCs were identified by their distinct alkaline phosphatase activity and they were first localised in the primitive streak and allantoic bud of the 7.5-day gastrulating embryo. Although inactivation of the transgene was found in some PGCs at these sites, at least 85% of the population were still expressing the lacZ gene. This suggests that, although X-inactivation has commenced during gastrulation, the majority of PGCs still possess two active X chromosomes. Transgene activity remained unchanged during the relocation of PGCs to the hindgut endoderm, but decreased abruptly when PGCs left the hindgut and migrated through the mesentery. X-inactivation was completed during the migration of PGCs, but not simultaneously for the whole population. The first wave of PGCs entering the genital ridge at 9.5 days did not immediately re-activate the silent transgene until about 24 hours later. Re-activation of the transgene took place in over 80% of PGCs entering the genital ridge at 10.5-13.5 days p.c., preceding the entry into meiosis. About 90% of the meiotic germ cells in the 14.5-15.5 day fetal ovary expressed the transgene. Similar profiles of transgene activity were observed in PGCs of embryos that have inherited the lacZ transgene from different parents, showing unequivocally that X-inactivation in the germ cell lineage is not related to parental legacy.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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