Primordial germ cells (PGCs) in mice have been recognized histologically as alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity-positive cells at 7.2 days post coitum (dpc) in the extra-embryonic mesoderm. However, mechanisms regulating PGC formation are unknown, and an appropriate in vitro system to study the mechanisms has not been established. Therefore, we have developed a primary culture of explanted embryos at pre- and early-streak stages, and have studied roles of cell and/or tissue interactions in PGC formation. The emergence of PGCs from 5.5 dpc epiblasts was observed only when they were co-cultured with extra-embryonic ectoderm, which may induce the conditions required for PGC formation within epiblasts. From 6.0 dpc onwards, PGCs emerged from whole epiblasts as did a fragment of proximal epiblast that corresponds to the area containing presumptive PGC precursors without neighboring extra-embryonic ectoderm and visceral endoderm. Dissociated epiblasts at these stages, however, did not give rise to PGCs, indicating that interactions among a cluster of a specific number of proximal epiblast cells is needed for PGC differentiation. In contrast, we observed that dissociated epiblast cells from a 6.5-b (6.5+15-16 hours) to 6.75 dpc embryo that had undergone gastrulation gave rise to PGCs. Our results demonstrate that stage-dependent tissue and cell interactions play key roles in PGC determination.

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