Fusion of a mammalian sperm cell with an oocyte will lead to the formation of a new organism. As this new organism develops, the cells that construct the organism gradually lose developmental competence and become differentiated, a process which is in part mediated via epigenetic modifications. These mechanisms include DNA methylation, histone tail modifications and association with Polycomb and Trithorax proteins. Several cells within the organism must however maintain or regain developmental competence while they are highly specialized. These are the primordial germ cells that form the gametes; the oocytes and sperm cells. In this review different epigenetic modifying mechanisms will be discussed as they occur in developing embryos. In addition, aspects of nuclear reprogramming that are likely to occur via removal of epigenetic modifications are important, and several epigenetic removal mechanisms are indeed also active in developing germ cells. In vivo, a pluripotent cell has the capacity to form gametes, but in vitro terminal gametogenesis has proven to be difficult. Although development of pluripotent cells to cells with the characteristics of early germ cells has been unequivocally demonstrated, creating the correct culture milieu that enables further maturation of these cells has as yet been futile.
Keywords: Embryo, primordial germ cell, epigenetics, pluripotency, ES cell, methylation
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