Expression and possible roles of extracellular signal-related kinases 1-2 (ERK1-2) in mouse primordial germ cell development

Maria SORRENTI, Francesca Gioia KLINGER, Saveria IONA, Valerio ROSSI, Serena MARCOZZI, and Massimo DE FELICI

J Reprod Dev. 2020 Oct; 66(5): 399–409. – Published online 2020 May 16. doi: 10.1262/jrd.2019-141


In the present work, we described the expression and activity of extracellular signal-related kinases 1-2 (ERK1-2) in mouse primordial germ cells (PGCs) from 8.5–14.5 days post coitum (dpc) and investigated whether these kinases play a role in regulating the various processes of PGC development. Using immunofluorescence and immunoblotting to detect the active phosphorylated form of ERK1-2 (p-ERK1-2), we found that the kinases were present in most proliferating 8.5–10.5 dpc PGCs, low in 11.5 dpc PGCs, and progressively increasing between 12.5–14.5 dpc both in female and male PGCs. In vitro culture experiments showed that inhibiting activation of ERK1-2 with the MEK-specific inhibitor U0126 significantly reduced the growth of 8.5 dpc PGCs in culture but had little effect on 11.5–12.5 dpc PGCs. Moreover, we found that the inhibitor did not affect the adhesion of 11.5 dpc PGCs, but it significantly reduced their motility features onto a cell monolayer. Further, while the ability of female PGCs to begin meiosis was not significantly affected by U0126, their progression through meiotic prophase I was slowed down. Notably, the activity of ERK1-2 was necessary for maintaining the correct expression of oocyte-specific genes crucial for germ cells survival and the formation of primordial follicles.

Keywords: Extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs), Gene expression, Meiosis, Oogenesis, Primordial germ cells