Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are the founders of the gametes. They arise at the earliest stages of embryonic development and migrate to the gonadal ridges, where they differentiate into oogonia/oocytes in the ovary, and prospermatogonia in the testis. The present article is a review of the main studies undertaken by the author with the aim of clarifying the mechanisms underlying the development of primordial germ cells. Methods for the isolation and purification of migratory and post-migratory mouse PGCs devised in the author's laboratory are first briefly reviewed. Such methods, together with the primary culture of PGCs onto suitable cell feeder layers, have allowed the analysis of important aspects of the control of their development, concerning in particular survival, proliferation and migration of mouse PGCs. Compounds and growth factors affecting PGC numbers in culture have been identified. These include survival anti-apoptotic factors (SCF, LIF) and positive regulators of proliferation (cAMP, PACAPs, RA). Evidence has been provided that the motility of migrating PGCs relies on integrated signals from extracellular matrix molecules and the surrounding somatic cells. Moreover, homotypic PGC-PGC interaction has been evidenced that might play a role in PGC migration and in regulating their development. Several molecules (i.e. integrins, specific types of oligosaccharides, E-cadherin, the tyrosine kinase receptor c-kit) have been found to be expressed on the surface of PGCs and to mediate adhesive interactions of PGCs with the extracellular matrix, somatic cells and neighbouring PGCs.