Germ cell fate decisions are poorly understood, despite their central role in reproduction. One fundamental question has been whether germ cells are regulated to enter the meiotic cell cycle (i.e., mitosis-meiosis decision) and to be sperm or oocyte (i.e., sperm-oocyte decision) through one or two cell fate choices. If a single decision is used, a male-specific or female-specific meiotic entry would lead necessarily toward spermatogenesis or oogenesis, respectively. If two distinct decisions are used, meiotic entry should be separable from specification as sperm or oocyte. Here, we investigate the relationship of these two decisions with tools uniquely available in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Specifically, we used a temperature-sensitive Notch allele to drive germ-line stem cells into the meiotic cell cycle, followed by chemical inhibition of the Ras/ERK pathway to reprogram the sperm-oocyte decision. We found that germ cells already in meiotic prophase can nonetheless be sexually transformed from a spermatogenic to an oogenic fate. This finding cleanly uncouples the mitosis-meiosis decision from the sperm-oocyte decision. In addition, we show that chemical reprogramming occurs in a germ-line region where germ cells normally transition from the mitotic to the meiotic cell cycle and that it dramatically changes the abundance of key sperm-oocyte fate regulators in meiotic germ cells. We conclude that the C. elegans mitosis-meiosis and sperm-oocyte decisions are separable regulatory events and suggest that this fundamental conclusion will hold true for germ cells throughout the animal kingdom.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Oogenesis is the process by which ovarian germ cells undertake meiosis and differentiate to become eggs. In mice, Stra8 is required for the chromosomal events of meiosis to occur, but its role in differentiation remains unknown. Here we report Stra8-deficient ovarian germ cells that grow and differentiate into oocyte-like cells that synthesize zonae pellucidae, organize surrounding somatic cells into follicles, are ovulated in response to hormonal stimulation, undergo asymmetric cell division to produce a polar body and cleave to form two-cell embryos upon fertilization. These events occur without premeiotic chromosomal replication, sister chromatid cohesion, synapsis or recombination. Thus, oocyte growth and differentiation are genetically dissociable from the chromosomal events of meiosis. These findings open to study the independent contributions of meiosis and oocyte differentiation to the making of a functional egg.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the nematode C. elegans, both males and self-fertile hermaphrodites produce sperm. As a result, researchers have been able to use a broad range of genetic and genomic techniques to dissect all aspects of sperm development and function. Their results show that the early stages of spermatogenesis are controlled by transcriptional and translational processes, but later stages are dominated by protein kinases and phosphatases. Once spermatids are produced, they participate in many interactions with other cells — signals from the somatic gonad determine when sperm activate and begin to crawl, signals from the female reproductive tissues guide the sperm, and signals from sperm stimulate oocytes to mature and be ovulated. The sperm also show strong competitive interactions with other sperm and oocytes. Some of the molecules that mediate these processes have conserved functions in animal sperm, others are conserved proteins that have been adapted for new roles in nematode sperm, and some are novel proteins that provide insights into evolutionary change. The advent of new techniques should keep this system on the cutting edge of research in cellular and reproductive biology.
Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology 05/2014; 29. DOI:10.1016/j.semcdb.2014.04.005 · 6.27 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Germ cells are the ultimate stem cells, and reports of their in vitro derivation generate excitement due to potential applications in reproductive medicine. To date, there is no firm evidence that meiosis, the hallmark of gametogenesis, can be faithfully replicated outside of the gonad. We propose benchmarks for evaluating in vitro derivation of germ cells, facilitating realization of their potential.
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