While our knowledge of bivalve gametogenesis recently progressed, data on early stages of gametogenesis remain to be developed, especially when dealing with germinal stem cells (GSC) and their niche in these organisms. Here, we wish to develop a strategy to identify putative GSC in Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas based on morphological criteria combined with vasa marker expression. A histological quantitative approach, based on stereology, allowed us to identify two types of early germ cells in the germinal epithelium, one presenting round nuclei and the other irregular ones. Both early germ cell types present slightly condensed chromatin in nucleus, are vasa-positive and the Oyvlg (oyster vasa-like gene) expression in these cells is recorded throughout the whole gametogenesis process. The microenvironment of an early germ cell in oyster includes an associated somatic cell presenting an immunolabeling for BMP2/4 and a close myoid cell. In agreement with the GSC characteristics in other species, we postulate that putative germ stem cells in C. gigas correspond to the early germ cell type with irregular nucleus shape; those early germ cells with a round nucleus may consist in progenitors.
Keywords: Crassostrea gigas; Germinal niche; Germinal stem cell; Lophotrochozoans; Quantitative histology; Vasa.