Origin and development of the germ line in sea stars

Genesis. 2014 May;52(5):367-77. doi: 10.1002/dvg.22772. Epub 2014 Apr 9.


This review summarizes and integrates our current understanding of how sea stars make gametes. Although little is known of the mechanism of germ line formation in these animals, recent results point to specific cells and to cohorts of molecules in the embryos and larvae that may lay the ground work for future research efforts. A coelomic outpocketing forms in the posterior of the gut in larvae, referred to as the posterior enterocoel (PE), that when removed, significantly reduces the number of germ cell later in larval growth. This same PE structure also selectively accumulates several germ-line associated factors-vasa, nanos, piwi-and excludes factors involved in somatic cell fate. Since its formation is relatively late in development, these germ cells may form by inductive mechanisms. When integrated into the morphological observations of germ cells and gonad development in larvae, juveniles, and adults, the field of germ line determination appears to have a good model system to study inductive germ line determination to complement the recent work on the molecular mechanisms in mice. We hope this review will also guide investigators interested in germ line determination and regulation of the germ line into how these animals can help in this research field. The review is not intended to be comprehensive-sea star reproduction has been studied for over 100 years and many reviews are comprehensive in their coverage of, for example, seasonal growth of the gonads in response to light, nutrient, and temperature. Rather the intent of this review is to help the reader focus on new experimental results attached to the historical underpinnings of how the germ cell functions in sea stars with particular emphasis to clarify the important areas of priority for future research.

Keywords: germ line; posterior enterocoel; primordial germ cell; sea star; starfish.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Gonads / metabolism*
  • Regeneration
  • Starfish / growth & development*