Oocytes differentiate in diverse species by receiving organelles and cytoplasm from sister germ cells while joined in germline cysts or syncytia. Mouse primordial germ cells form germline cysts, but the role of cysts in oogenesis is unknown. We find that mouse germ cells receive organelles from neighboring cyst cells and build a Balbiani body to become oocytes, whereas nurselike germ cells die. Organelle movement, Balbiani body formation, and oocyte fate determination are selectively blocked by low levels of microtubule-dependent transport inhibitors. Membrane breakdown within the cyst and an apoptosis-like process are associated with organelle transfer into the oocyte, events reminiscent of nurse cell dumping in Drosophila. We propose that cytoplasmic and organelle transport plays an evolutionary conserved and functionally important role in mammalian oocyte differentiation.
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