Genetically based diseases constitute a major human health burden, and de novo germline mutations represent a source of heritable genetic alterations that can cause such disorders in offspring. The availability of transgenic rodent systems with recoverable, mutation reporter genes has been used to assess the occurrence of spontaneous point mutations in germline cells. Previous studies using the lacI mutation reporter transgenic mouse system showed that the frequency of spontaneous mutations is significantly lower in advanced male germ cells than in somatic cell types from the same individuals. Here we used this same mutation reporter transgene system to show that female germ cells also display a mutation frequency that is lower than that in corresponding somatic cells and similar to that seen in male germ cells, indicating this is a common feature of germ cells in both sexes. In addition, we showed that statistically significant differences in mutation frequencies are evident between germ cells and somatic cells in both sexes as early as mid-fetal stages in the mouse. Finally, a comparison of the mutation frequency in a general population of early type A spermatogonia with that in a population enriched for Thy-1-positive spermatogonia suggests there is heterogeneity among the early spermatogonial population such that a subset of these cells are predestined to form true spermatogonial stem cells. Taken together, these results support the disposable soma theory, which posits that genetic integrity is normally maintained more stringently in the germ line than in the soma and suggests that this is achieved by minimizing the initial occurrence of mutations in early germline cells and their subsequent gametogenic progeny relative to that in somatic cells.
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Vol. 88 • No. 1