Identification of molecular markers is an essential step in the study of germ cells. Vasa is an RNA helicase and a well-known germ cell marker that plays a crucial role in germ cell development. Here, we identified the Vasa homolog termed Mpvasa as the first germ cell marker in black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus). First, a 2819-bp full-length Mpvasa complementary DNA (cDNA) was cloned by PCR using degenerated primers of conserved sequences and gene-specific primers. The Mpvasa cDNA sequence encodes a 637-amino acid protein that contains eight conserved characteristic motifs of the DEAD box protein family, and shares high identity to grass carp (81%) and zebrafish (74%) vasa homologs. Second, Mpvasa expression was restricted to the gonad in adulthood by RT-PCR and Western blot analysis. The dynamic patterns of temporal-spatial expression of Mpvasa during gametogenesis were examined by in situ hybridization, and Mpvasa transcripts were strictly detected in gonadal germ cells throughout oogenesis, predominantly in immature oocytes (stage I, II, and III oocytes). Third, Mpvasa transcripts were highly detected in unfertilized eggs and early embryos, and the signal indicated a dynamic migration of the primordial germ cells during embryogenesis, suggesting that Mpvasa transcripts were maternally inherited and specifically distributed in germ cells. Taken together, these results demonstrated that Mpvasa is an applicable molecular marker for identification of gonadal and embryonic germ cells, which facilitates the isolation and utilization of germ cells in black carp.
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