Stem cell factor and leukemia inhibitory factor promote primordial germ cell survival by suppressing programmed cell death (apoptosis)

Maurizio Pesce, Maria Grazia Farrace, Mauro Piacentini, Susanna Dolci, Massimo De Felici

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Proliferating primordial germ cells (PGCs) isolated from mouse embryos soon after their arrival in the genital ridges would only survive in vitro at temperature of less than 30°C (De Felici, M. and McLaren, A. (1983). Exp. Cell. Res. 144, 417-427; Wabik-Sliz, B. and McLaren, A. (1984). Exp. Cell. Res. 154, 530-536) or when co-cultured on cell feeder layers (Donovan, P. J., Stott, D., Godin, I., Heasman, J. and Wylie, C. C. (1986). Cell 44, 831-838; De Felici, M. and Dolci, S. (1991). Dev. Biol. 147, 281-284). In the present paper we report that mouse PGC death in vitro occurs with all the hallmarks of programmed cell death or apoptosis. We found that after 4-5 hours in culture many PGCs isolated from 12.5 dpc fetal gonads assumed a nuclear morphology and produced membrane bound fragments (apoptotic bodies) typical of apoptotic cells. In addition, PGCs in culture accumulated high level of tissue transglutaminase (tTGase; an enzyme that is induced and activated during apoptosis) and showed extensive degradation of DNA to oligonucleosomal fragments, which is characteristic of apoptosis. The physiological relevance of this mechanism of PGC death is supported by the finding that some PGCs undergoing apoptosis, as revealed by the high level of tTGase expression, were detected in the embryo. Most importantly, we show that the addition of stem cell factor (SCF) or leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) to the culture medium, two cytokines known to favour PGC survival and/or proliferation in vitro, markedly reduced the occurrence of apoptosis in PGCs during the first hours in culture. These last results suggest a novel mechanism by which these two cytokines may affect the in vitro as well possibly in vivo development of mammalian PGCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1089-1094
Number of pages6
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1993


  • Apoptosis
  • Leukemia inhibitory factor
  • Primordial germ cells
  • Stem cell factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Anatomy


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