The mechanisms for human germ cell development have remained largely unknown, due to the difficulty in obtaining suitable experimental materials. The establishment of an in vitro system to reconstitute human germ cell development will thus provide a critical opportunity to understand its mechanisms at a molecular level. It has previously been shown that human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) are first induced into incipient mesoderm-like cells (iMeLCs), which are in turn induced into primordial germ-cell like cells (PGCLCs) with gene expression properties similar to early migratory PGCs. Here, we report that the efficiency of PGCLC induction varies among hiPSC clones, and, interestingly, the clonal variations in PGCLC induction efficiency are reflected in the gene expression states of the iMeLCs. Remarkably, the expression levels of EOMES, MIXL1, or T in the iMeLCs are positively correlated with the efficiency of subsequent PGCLC generation, while the expressions of CDH1, SOX3, or FGF2 are negatively correlated. These results indicate that the expression changes of these genes occurring during iMeLC induction are key markers indicative of successful induction of PGCLCs, and furthermore, that hiPSC clones have different properties that influence their responsivity to the iMeLC induction. Our study thus provides important insights into the mechanism of hPGC specification as well as the development of a better strategy for inducing human germ cell fate from PSCs in vitro.
Gene expression responses to activin A/WNT signaling vary among clones of human induced pluripotent stem cells, and these differences greatly reflect the clonal variations in the induction efficiency into in vitro primordial germ cells.