Commitment of the germ cell lineage during embryogenesis depends on zygotic gene expression in mammals, but little is known about the signaling molecules required for germ cell formation. Here we show that the intracellular signaling molecule SMAD1, acting downstream of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) receptors, is required for the commitment of germ cell lineage from epiblast in early mouse embryos. Smad1 homozygous mutant embryos (Smad1-/-) were generated by in-frame insertion of lacZ gene into an exon of the Smad1 gene. Most of the Smad1-/- embryos contained no primordial germ cells (PGCs) and had short allantois, while histological analysis and in situ hybridization for the mesoderm marker genes revealed that early mesoderm induction was normal in those embryos. Smad1 expression was observed in epiblast and in visceral endoderm during gastrulation, while only a few alkaline phosphatase-positive PGCs at 7.5 and 8.5 days post coitum (E7.5 and E8.5) expressed Smad1. Phosphorylated SMAD proteins were localized in the proximal region of epiblast at E6.0-6.5, where the progenitors of PGCs and of allantois reside. Single-cell reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis revealed that the expression of Smad1, -5 and -8 were sporadic and mutually independent in proximal epiblast cells. We also found that BMP4-induced differentiation of PGCs from epiblast in vitro was fully dependent on the existence of phosphorylated SMAD1. These results indicate that SMAD1 signaling possesses a critical and non-redundant function in the initial commitment of the germ cell lineage.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental Biology