Meiosis is a unique type of cell division that is performed only by germ cells to form haploid gametes. The switch from mitosis to meiosis exhibits a distinct sex-specific difference in timing, with female germ cells entering meiosis during fetal development and male germ cells at puberty when spermatogenesis is initiated. During early fetal development, bipotential primordial germ cells migrate to the forming gonad where they remain sexually indifferent until the sex-specific differentiation of germ cells is initiated by cues from the somatic cells. This irreversible step in gonadal sex differentiation involves the initiation of meiosis in fetal ovaries and prevention of meiosis in the germ cells of fetal testes. During the last decade, major advances in the understanding of meiosis regulation have been accomplished, with the discovery of retinoic acid as an inducer of meiosis being the most prominent finding. Knowledge about the molecular mechanisms regulating meiosis signaling has mainly been established by studies in rodents, while this has not yet been extensively investigated in humans. In this review, the current knowledge about the regulation of meiosis signaling is summarized and placed in the context of fetal gonad development and germ cell differentiation, with emphasis on results obtained in humans. Furthermore, the consequences of dysregulated meiosis signaling in humans are briefly discussed in the context of selected pathologies, including testicular germ cell cancer and some forms of male infertility.
Biomolecular Concepts, 2014, Vol 5, Issue 4, p. 331-41
Journal Article; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't; Review