DDX4 (VASA) is an RNA helicase expressed in the germ cells of all animals. To gain greater insight into the role of this gene in mammalian germ cell development, we characterized DDX4 in both a marsupial (the tammar wallaby) and a monotreme (the platypus). DDX4 is highly conserved between eutherian, marsupial, and monotreme mammals. DDX4 protein is absent from tammar fetal germ cells but is present from Day 1 postpartum in both sexes. The distribution of DDX4 protein during oogenesis and spermatogenesis in the tammar is similar to eutherians. Female tammar germ cells contain DDX4 protein throughout all stages of postnatal oogenesis. In males, DDX4 is in gonocytes, and during spermatogenesis it is present in spermatocytes and round spermatids. A similar distribution of DDX4 occurs in the platypus during spermatogenesis. There are several DDX4 isoforms in the tammar, resulting from both pre- and posttranslational modifications. DDX4 in marsupials and monotremes has multiple splice variants and polyadenylation motifs. Using in silico analyses of genomic databases, we found that these previously unreported splice variants also occur in eutherians. In addition, several elements implicated in the control of Ddx4 expression in the mouse, including RGG (arginine-glycine-glycine) and dimethylation of arginine motifs and CpG islands within the Ddx4 promoter, are also highly conserved. Collectively these data suggest that DDX4 is essential for the regulation of germ cell proliferation and differentiation across all three extant mammalian groups—eutherians, marsupials, and monotremes.
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Vol. 85 • No. 4