Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are first identifiable as a population of about eight alkaline phosphatase-positive cells in the 7.0 days postcoitum mouse embryo1. During the next 6 days of development they proliferate to give rise to the 25,000 cells that will establish the meiotic population 2. Steel factor is required for PGC survival both in vivo3 and in vitro4,5 and together with leukaemia inhibitory factor stimulates PGC proliferation in vitro6. In feeder-dependent culture, PGCs will proliferate for up to 7 days, but their numbers eventually decline and their proliferative capacity is only a fraction of that seen in vivo 6,7. Here we report a further factor that stimulates PGC proliferation in vitro, basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF). Furthermore, bFGF, in the presence of steel factor and leukaemia inhibitory factor, stimulates long-term proliferation of PGCs, leading to the derivation of large colonies of cells. These embryonic germ cells resemble embryonic stem cells, pluripotent cells derived from preimplantation embryos, or feeder-dependent embryonal carcinoma cells, pluripotent stem cells of PGC-derived tumours (teratomas and teratocarcinomas)8. To our knowledge, these results provide the first system for long-term culture of PGCs.
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