Spermatogonial stem cells: characteristics and experimental possibilities

Authors

  • PEDRO M. APONTE,

    1. Department of Endocrinology, Faculty of Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
    2. Department of Biomedical Sciences, Central University of Venezuela, Aragua State, Maracay, Venezuela
    3. Department of Cell Biology, UMCU, Utrecht, The Netherlands
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    • *These authors contributed equally to this review.

  • MAAIKE P. A. VAN BRAGT,

    1. Department of Endocrinology, Faculty of Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
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    • *These authors contributed equally to this review.

  • DIRK G. DE ROOIJ,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Endocrinology, Faculty of Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
    2. Department of Cell Biology, UMCU, Utrecht, The Netherlands
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  • ANS M. M. VAN PELT

    1. Department of Endocrinology, Faculty of Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
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  • Invited Review.

Dirk G. de Rooij, Department of Endocrinology, Faculty of Biology, University of Utrecht, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands. e-mail: d.g.derooij@bio.uu.nl

Abstract

The continuation of the spermatogenic process throughout life relies on a proper regulation of self-renewal and differentiation of the spermatogonial stem cells. These are single cells situated on the basal membrane of the seminiferous epithelium. Only 0.03% of all germ cells are spermatogonial stem cells. They are the only cell type that can repopulate and restore fertility to congenitally infertile recipient mice following transplantation. Although numerous expression markers have been helpful in isolating and enriching spermatogonial stem cells, such as expression of THY-1 and GFRα-1 and absence of c-kit, no specific marker for this cell type has yet been identified. Much effort has been put into developing a protocol for the maintenance of spermatogonial cells in vitro. Recently, coculture systems of testicular cells on various feeder cells have made it possible to culture spermatogonial stem cells for a long period of time, as was demonstrated by the transplantation assay. Even expansion of testicular cells, including the spermatogonial stem cells, has been achieved. In these culture systems, hormones and growth factors are investigated for their role in the process of proliferation of spermatogonial stem cells. At the moment the best culture system known still consists of a mixture of testicular cells with about 1.33% spermatogonial stem cells. Recently pure SV40 large T immortalized spermatogonial stem cell lines have been established. These c-kit-negative cell lines did not show any differentiation in vitro or in vivo. A telomerase immortalized c-kit-positive spermatogonial cell line has been established that was able to differentiate in vitro. Spermatocytes and even spermatids were formed. However, spermatogonial stem cell activity by means of the transplantation assay was not tested for this cell line. Both the primary long-term cultures and immortalized cell lines have represented a major step forward in investigating the regulation of spermatogonial self-renewal and differentiation, and will be useful for identifying specific molecular markers.

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