Embryonic germ cells: When germ cells become stem cells

Candace L. Kerr, John D. Gearhart, Aaron M. Elliott, Peter J. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Embryonic germ cells (EGCs) are pluripotent stem cells derived from primordial germ cells (PGCs). PGCs are progenitors of adult gametes, which diverge from the somatic lineage between late embryonic to early fetal development. First derived in the mouse, EGCs have also been derived from human, chicken, and pig. As pluripotent stem cells, EGCs demonstrate long-term self-renewal via clonal expansion in an undifferentiated state, and differentiate in vitro to form embryoid bodies containing cells that represent all three germ layers as well as mixed cell populations of less differentiated progenitors and precursors. This is also demonstrated in vivo by their formation into experimentally induced teratocarcinomas following transplantation. Furthermore, mice, pig, and chicken EGCs have also been shown to contribute to experimentally produced chimeric animals, induding germline transmission. Importantly, EGCs demonstrate normal and stable karyotypes as well as normal patterns of genomic imprinting, including X-inactivation. Transplantation studies have begun in a variety of models in hopes of defining their potential use to treat a wide variety of human conditions, including diabetes and urological and neurological disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-313
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in Reproductive Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Embryonic germ cells
  • Pluripotency
  • Primordial germ cells
  • Stem cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Physiology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Reproductive Medicine


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