The commitment of germ cells to either oogenesis or spermatogenesis occurs during fetal gonad development: germ cells enter meiosis or mitotic arrest, depending on whether they reside within an ovary or a testis, respectively. Despite the critical importance of this step for sexual reproduction, gene networks underlying germ cell development have remained only partially understood. Taking advantage of the Wv mouse model, in which gonads lack germ cells, we conducted a microarray study to identify genes expressed in fetal germ cells. In addition to distinguishing genes expressed by germ cells from those expressed by somatic cells within the developing gonads, we were able to highlight specific groups of genes expressed only in female or male germ cells. Our results provide an important resource for deciphering the molecular pathways driving proper germ cell development and sex determination and will improve our understanding of the etiology of human germ cell tumors that arise from dysregulation of germ cell differentiation.
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Vol. 84 • No. 4