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Serena Corallini, Stefania Fera, Laura Grisanti, Ilaria Falciatori, Barbara Muciaccia, Mario Stefanini and Elena Vicini

Numb is an adaptor protein that is asymmetrically inherited at mitosis and controls the fate of sibling cells in different species. The role of m-Numb (mammalian Numb) as an important cell fate-determining factor has extensively been described mostly in neural tissues, particularly in progenitor cells, in the mouse. Biochemical and genetic analyses have shown that Numb acts as an inhibitor of the Notch signaling pathway, an evolutionarily conserved pathway involved in the control of cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. In the present study, we sought to determine m-Numb distribution in germ cells in the postnatal mouse testis. We show that all four m-Numb isoforms are widely expressed during postnatal testis development. By reverse transcriptase-PCR and western blot analyses, we further identify p71 as the predominantly expressed isoform in germ cells. Moreover, we demonstrate through co-immunoprecipitation studies that m-Numb physically associates with Ap2a1, a component of the endocytotic clathrin-coated vesicles. Finally, we employed confocal immunofluorescence microscopy of whole mount seminiferous tubules and isolated germ cells to gain more insight into the subcellular localization of m-Numb. These morphological analyses confirmed m-Numb and Ap2a1 co-localization. However, we did not observe asymmetric localization of m-Numb neither in mitotic spermatogonial stem cells nor in more differentiated spermatogonial cells, suggesting that spermatogonial stem cell fate in the mouse does not rely on asymmetric partitioning of m-Numb.

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M. T. Hochereau-de Reviers, C. Perreau and G. A. Lincoln

Summary. Seasonal changes in the Leydig, Sertoli and stem cells (undifferentiated A0 and cyclic A1) spermatogonia and the daily spermatid production were analysed in the testes of adult Soay rams exposed to short days (8L: 16D) or long days (16L: 8D) for 12 weeks. The total numbers of Leydig, Sertoli and stem cells (A0 + A1) were not affected by the treatments, but the size of the Leydig and the Sertoli cells, the efficiency of spermatogenesis (i.e. the number of male gametes produced by an A1 spermatogonium and the daily sperm production were all significantly reduced in the rams exposed to long days. There was a positive correlation between the concentration of FSH and testosterone and many of the cytological changes consistent with a causal role for these hormones in mediating the effects of photoperiod on the testicular function in the ram.

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W Zhong, Y Xie, M Abdallah, A O Awonuga, J A Slater, L Sipahi, E E Puscheck and D A Rappolee

Stress reduces fertility, but the mechanisms mediating this are not understood. For a successful pregnancy, placental trophoblast stem cells (TSCs) in the implanting embryo proliferate and then a subpopulation differentiates to produce hormones. Normally, differentiation occurs when inhibitor of differentiation 2 (ID2) protein is lost in human and mouse placental stem cells. We hypothesize that stress enzyme-dependent differentiation occurs in association with insufficient TSC accumulation. We studied a well-defined model where TSC differentiation requires ID2 loss. The loss of ID2 derepresses the promoter of chorionic somatomammotropin hormone 1 (CSH1), the first hormone after implantation. Csh1 mRNA is known to be induced in stressed TSCs. In this study, we demonstrate that AMP-activated protein kinase (PRKAA1/2, aka AMPK) mediates the stress-induced proteasome-dependent loss of ID2 at high stress levels. At very low stress levels, PRKAA1/2 mediates metabolic adaptation exemplified by the inactivation of acetyl coA carboxylase by phosphorylation without ID2 loss. At the highest stress levels, irreversible TSC differentiation as defined by ID2 loss and slower cell accumulation occurs. However, lower stress levels lead to reversible differentiation accompanied by metabolic adaptation. These data support the hypothesis that PRKAA1/2 mediates preparation for differentiation that is induced by stress at levels where a significant decrease in cell accumulation occurs. This supports the interpretation that enzyme-mediated increases in differentiation may compensate when insufficient numbers of stem cells accumulate.

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C Denning and H Priddle

Until recently, precise modification of the animal genome by gene targeting was restricted to the mouse because germline competent embryonic stem cells are not available in any other mammalian species. Nuclear transfer (NT) technology now provides an alternative route for cell-based transgenesis in domestic species, offering new opportunities in genetic modification. Livestock that produce human therapeutic proteins in their milk, have organs suitable for xenotransplantation, or that could provide resistance to diseases such as spongiform encephalopathies have been produced by NT from engineered, cultured somatic cells. However, improvements in the efficiency of somatic cell gene targeting and a greater understanding of the reprogramming events that occur during NT are required for the routine application of what is currently an inefficient process. The ability to reprogramme and genetically manipulate cells will also be crucial for full exploitation of human embryonic stem (hES) cells, which offer unparalleled opportunities in human health and biotechnology. Particularly pertinent are directed differentiation of hES lines to specific cell lineages, production of cells that evade the patient's immune system and ensuring the safety of ensuing transplants. This review will discuss some of the successes, applications and challenges facing gene targeting in livestock and hES cells.

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Gurpreet Manku and Martine Culty

The production of spermatozoa relies on a pool of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), formed in infancy from the differentiation of their precursor cells, the gonocytes. Throughout adult life, SSCs will either self-renew or differentiate, in order to maintain a stem cell reserve while providing cells to the spermatogenic cycle. By contrast, gonocytes represent a transient and finite phase of development leading to the formation of SSCs or spermatogonia of the first spermatogenic wave. Gonocyte development involves phases of quiescence, cell proliferation, migration, and differentiation. Spermatogonia, on the other hand, remain located at the basement membrane of the seminiferous tubules throughout their successive phases of proliferation and differentiation. Apoptosis is an integral part of both developmental phases, allowing for the removal of defective cells and the maintenance of proper germ–Sertoli cell ratios. While gonocytes and spermatogonia mitosis are regulated by distinct factors, they both undergo differentiation in response to retinoic acid. In contrast to postpubertal spermatogenesis, the early steps of germ cell development have only recently attracted attention, unveiling genes and pathways regulating SSC self-renewal and proliferation. Yet, less is known on the mechanisms regulating differentiation. The processes leading from gonocytes to spermatogonia have been seldom investigated. While the formation of abnormal gonocytes or SSCs could lead to infertility, defective gonocyte differentiation might be at the origin of testicular germ cell tumors. Thus, it is important to better understand the molecular mechanisms regulating these processes. This review summarizes and compares the present knowledge on the mechanisms regulating mammalian gonocyte and spermatogonial differentiation.

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A. G. Byskov, P. E. Høyer and L. Westergaard

Summary. A large proportion of the somatic cells of the developing ovaries of mouse, human and rabbit stems from the mesonephric tissue. In the immature mouse ovary and in the 19-day-old fetal rabbit ovary, the first steroid-producing cells differentiate among the mesonephric-derived cells within the ovary. In the fetal human ovary, the first steroid-producing cells arise in the inner part of the cortex and differentiate concomitantly with the formation of small follicles. The origin of the early steroid-producing cells in the human ovary is still uncertain.

During early ovarian development, formation and further differentiation of the steroid-producing interstitial cells seem to continue only in areas devoid of free viable germ cells.

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T Mayanagi, K Ito and J Takahashi

Primordial germ cells differentiate into germ cells and have the ability to reacquire totipotency. Mouse primordial germ cells are identified by alkaline phosphatase staining of the extraembryonic mesoderm, and they proliferate and migrate to reach the genital ridges. Mouse primordial germ cells have never been maintained in culture exclusively for longer than a week without differentiation or dedifferentiation. Moreover, primordial germ cells have not been proliferated with urogenital complexes in vitro, because gonad culture has never been successful. It was thought that primordial germ cells could proliferate in a culture of urogenital complex under modified medium conditions resembling those in vivo; however, organ culture of mouse gonad has been performed with fetal calf serum or equine serum, and those sera produce conditions different from those in vivo. Therefore, mouse urogenital complexes were cultured in media containing rodent sera. As a result, it was possible to proliferate primordial germ cell-like cells outside gonads, and these cells very closely resembled primordial germ cells. In addition, motile primordial germ cell-like cells could be obtained. The ability to maintain primordial germ cell-like cells in culture by this intra-species culture method is important in the study of gametogenesis. Furthermore, this method is useful as a source of stem cells such as embryonic germ cells.

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Zhiwei Niu, Liming Zheng, Siyu Wu, Hailong Mu, Fanglin Ma, Wencong Song, Haijing Zhu, Jiang Wu, Xin He and Jinlian Hua

Spermatogonia stem cells (SSCs), also named the male germline stem cells (mGSCs), which is located at the base of the seminiferous tubules of testis, is the basis for generating sperm steadily in male animals. Currently, there are some preliminary study on the self-renewal and differentiation of SSCs, but further mechanism, especially in large animals, has not been clearly understood. Ras/ERK1/2 pathway is widely distributed in multiple cells in vivo. It plays an important role in cell proliferation, differentiation and so on. However, the study on the function for the self-renewal of dairy goats SSCs has not been investigated. In this study, the dairy goat SSCs characterization were evaluated by semi-RT-PCR, alkaline phosphatase (AP) staining, and immunofluorescence staining. Then, Ras/ERK1/2 pathway was blocked by specific MEK1/2 inhibitor PD0325901. We analyzed the proliferation by cell number, cell growth curve, Brdu incorporation assay, and cell cycle analysis. The results showed that the proliferation was significantly inhibited by PD0325901. Cell apoptosis induced by blocking the Ras/ERK1/2 pathway was analyzed by TUNEL. The expression of ETV5 and BCL6B, the downstream gene of Ras/ERK1/2 pathway, was downregulated. This study suggest that the Ras/ERK1/2 pathway plays a critical role in maintaining the self-renewal of dairy goat SSCs via regulation of ETV5 and BCL6B. This study laid a foundation for insights into the mechanism of SSCs self-renewal comprehensively.

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T. C. Lavranos, P. C. O'Leary and R. J. Rodgers

Granulosa cells can exhibit the properties of stem cells and tumour cells. Contact with neighbouring cells does not inhibit their replication in vivo and they can divide in vitro while embedded in agar and thus without anchorage on a substratum. By culturing granulosa cells without anchorage, those cells that do not require anchorage, and thus exhibit at least one property of stem cells, divide. The effects of insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) and insulin-like growth factor binding protein 1 (IGFBP-1) on the replication of such cells was investigated by isolating granulosa cells from follicles (3–5 mm diameter) from cyclic cows and culturing them in soft agar-methylcellulose solution. Cell division was measured as [3H]thymidine incorporation into DNA, total DNA, or as the amount of the nuclear La antigen. This antigen is involved in RNA synthesis and is expressed ubiquitously; here it was used to estimate the numbers of cells indirectly. Both IGF-I (100 ng ml−1) and IGF-II (100 ng ml−1) and their respective analogues, as well as insulin, all at the same concentration, significantly increased DNA synthesis as determined by [3H]thymidine incorporation (n = 5). An increase in the number of cells in the presence of IGF-I was also confirmed by DNA measurement (P < 0.05, n = 5) and by western immunoblotting analyses of La antigen (n = 3). IGFBP-1 significantly inhibited cell division stimulated by IGF-I (P < 0.001) and IGF-II (P < 0.001), but not that stimulated by the analogue, LR3IGF-I, which has low affinity for IGFBPs. Other factors also known to affect IGF synthesis or effectiveness (FSH, oestradiol, growth hormone) did not appear to influence division of granulosa cells when cultured under anchorage-independent conditions, while dibutyryl cAMP significantly inhibited cell division (P < 0.01, n = 5). In conclusion, IGFs have a role to play in stimulating division of stem-cell-like granulosa cells during follicular development and IGFBP-1 can specifically inhibit the mitogenic effects of IGFs.

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Pedro M Aponte, Takeshi Soda, Katja J Teerds, S Canan Mizrak, Henk J G van de Kant and Dirk G de Rooij

The access to sufficient numbers of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) is a prerequisite for the study of their regulation and further biomanipulation. A specialized medium and several growth factors were tested to study the in vitro behavior of bovine type A spermatogonia, a cell population that includes the SSCs and can be specifically stained for the lectin Dolichos biflorus agglutinin. During short-term culture (2 weeks), colonies appeared, the morphology of which varied with the specific growth factor(s) added. Whenever the stem cell medium was used, round structures reminiscent of sectioned seminiferous tubules appeared in the core of the colonies. Remarkably, these round structures always contained type A spermatogonia. When leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), epidermal growth factor (EGF), or fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2) were added, specific effects on the numbers and arrangement of somatic cells were observed. However, the number of type A spermatogonia was significantly higher in cultures to which glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) was added and highest when GDNF, LIF, EGF, and FGF2 were all present. The latter suggests that a proper stimulation of the somatic cells is necessary for optimal stimulation of the germ cells in culture. Somatic cells present in the colonies included Sertoli cells, peritubular myoid cells, and a few Leydig cells. A transplantation experiment, using nude mice, showed the presence of SSCs among the cultured cells and in addition strongly suggested a more than 10 000-fold increase in the number of SSCs after 30 days of culture. These results demonstrate that bovine SSC self-renew in our specialized bovine culture system and that this system can be used for the propagation of these cells.