- The germ cells of metazoans follow a program of proliferation that is distinct from proliferation programs of somatic cells. Despite their developmental importance, the cell proliferation program in the metazoan primordial germ cells is not well characterized and the regulatory controls are not understood. In Drosophila melanogaster, germ cell precursors (called pole cells) proliferate early in embryogenesis and then enter a prolonged quiescence. We found that polar nuclear divisions are asynchronous and lag behind somatic nuclear divisions during syncytial cycles 9 and 10. Thus, the polar division program deviates from the somatic division program when pole nuclei and somatic nuclei still share a common cytoplasm, earlier than previously thought. The lag in polar nuclear divisions is independent of grapes, which is required for lengthening somatic cell cycles 10-13. Mapping of the last S phase in pole cells and measurement of their DNA content indicate that pole cells become quiescent in G2 phase of the cell cycle. We were able to drive quiescent pole cells into mitosis by induction of either an activator of Cdc2 (Cdc25string phosphatase) or a mutant form of Cdc2 that cannot be inhibited by phosphorylation. In contrast, induction of wild-type Cdc2 with a mitotic cyclin did not induce mitosis in pole cells. We propose that inhibition of Cdc2 by phosphorylation contributes to G2 arrest in pole cells during embryogenesis. Furthermore, pole cells enter G1 following induced mitoses, indicating that entry into both mitosis and S phase is blocked in quiescent pole cells. These studies represent the first molecular characterization of proliferation in embryonic germ cells of Drosophila.