Evolutionarily Distinctive Transcriptional and Signaling Programs Drive Human Germ Cell Lineage Specification from Pluripotent Stem Cells

Cell Stem Cell. 2017 Oct 5;21(4):517-532.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.stem.2017.09.005.


Germline specification underlies human reproduction and evolution, but it has proven difficult to study in humans since it occurs shortly after blastocyst implantation. This process can be modeled with human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) by differentiating them into primordial germ cell-like cells (hPGCLCs) through an incipient mesoderm-like cell (iMeLC) state. Here, we elucidate the key transcription factors and their interactions with important signaling pathways in driving hPGCLC differentiation from iPSCs. Germline competence of iMeLCs is dictated by the duration and dosage of WNT signaling, which induces expression of EOMES to activate SOX17, a key driver of hPGCLC specification. Upon hPGCLC induction, BMP signaling activates TFAP2C in a SOX17-independent manner. SOX17 and TFAP2C then cooperatively instate an hPGCLC transcriptional program, including BLIMP1 expression. This specification program diverges from its mouse counterpart regarding key transcription factors and their hierarchies, and it provides a foundation for further study of human germ cell development.

Keywords: EOMES; SOX17; TFAP2C; cynomolgus monkeys; human development; human iPSCs; pluripotency; primordial germ cells; specification; transcription factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cell Lineage* / genetics
  • Embryo Implantation / genetics
  • Embryo, Mammalian / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Germ Cells / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Primates
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic*
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / genetics


  • Transcription Factors