Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are the embryonic precursors of spermatozoa and eggs. In mammals, PGCs arise early in embryonic development and migrate from their tissue of specification over a significant distance to reach their destinations, the genital ridges. However, the exact mechanism of translocation is still debated. A study on human embryos demonstrated a very close spatial association between migrating PGCs and developing peripheral nerves. Thus, it was proposed that peripheral nerves act as guiding structures for migrating PGCs. The goal of the present study is to test whether the association between nerves and PGCs may be a human-specific finding or whether this represents a general strategy to guide PGCs in mammals. Therefore, we investigated embryos of different developmental stages from the mouse and a non-human primate, the marmoset monkey (Callithrix jacchus), covering the phase from PGC emergence to their arrival in the gonadal ridge. Embryo sections were immunohistochemically co-stained for tubulin beta-3 chain (TUBB3) to visualise neurons and Octamer-binding protein 4 (OCT4 (POU5F1)) as marker for PGCs. The distance between PGCs and the nearest detectable neuron was measured. We discovered that in all embryos analysed of both species, the majority of PGCs (>94%) was found at a minimum distance of 50 µm to the closest neuron and, more importantly, that the PGCs had reached the gonads before any TUBB3 signal could be detected in the vicinity of the gonads. In conclusion, our data indicate that PGC migration along peripheral nerves is not a general mechanism in mammals.
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