An ultrastructural study of primordial germ cells, oogonia and early oocytes in Xenopus laevis
K A al-Mukhtar, A C Webb
Journal of embryology and experimental morphology
Electron-microscope observations on the differentiation of germ cells in Xenopus laevis have revealed that the Balbiani body, cytoplasmic nucleolus-like bodies and groups of mitochondria associated with granular material previously reported only in older amphibian oocytes, are also present in the primordial germ cells, oogonia and early meiotic (prediplotene) oocytes of this species. Although there is considerable morphological reorganization of the gonad as a whole at the time of sex
... ion, little visible change in the ultrastructure of the primordial germ cells appears to take place during their transition to oogonia. Both primordial germ cells and oogonia have highly lobed nuclei and their cytoplasm contains a conspicuous, juxtanuclear organelle aggregate (consisting for the most part of mitochondria), which is considered to represent the precursor of the Balbiani body. In marked contrast, the transition from oogonium to oocyte in Xenopus is characterized by a distinctive change in nuclear shape (from lobed to round) associated with the onset of meiosis. During leptotene the oocyte chromatin becomes visibly organized into electron-dense axial elements (representing the single unpaired chromosomes) which are surrounded by a fibrillar network. Towards the end of leptotene, these axial elements become attached to the inner surface of the nuclear membrane in a localized region adjacent to the juxtanuclear mitochondrial aggregate. Zygotene is marked by the initiation of axial element pairing over short regions, resulting in the typical synaptonemal complex configuration of paired homologous chromosomes. The polarization of these tripartite ribbons within the nucleus becomes more pronounced in late zygotene, producing the familiar Bouquet arrangement. The synaptonemal complexes are more extensive as synapsis reaches a climax during pachytene, whereas the polarization is to some extent lost. The fine structure of synaptonemal complexes in the Xenopus oocyte is essentially the same as that described in numerous other plant and animal meiocytes. It is not until the beginning of the extended diplotene phase that any appreciable increase in cell diameter takes place. During early diplotene (oocyte diameter approximately 50 /*m), the compact Balbiani body characteristic of the pre-vitellogenic anuran oocyte is formed by condensation of the juxtanuclear mitochondrial aggregate. Electron-dense, granular material appears to pass between nucleus and cytoplasm via nuclear pores in all stages of Xenopus germ cell differentiation studied. There is a distinct similarity in electron density and granular content between this 'nuage material' associated with the nuclear pores and the cytoplasmic aggregates of granular material in association with mitochondria or in the form of nucleolus-like bodies.