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Kenneth Garson and Barbara C Vanderhyden

The lack of significant progress in the treatment of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) underscores the need to gain a better understanding of the processes that lead to chemoresistance and recurrence. The cancer stem cell (CSC) hypothesis offers an attractive explanation of how a subpopulation of cells within a patient's tumour might remain refractory to treatment and subsequently form the basis of recurrent chemoresistant disease. This review examines the literature defining somatic stem cells of the ovary and fallopian tube, two tissues that give rise to EOC. In addition, considerable research has been reviewed, that has identified subpopulations of EOC cells, based on marker expression (CD133, CD44, CD117, CD24, epithelial cell adhesion molecule, LY6A, ALDH1 and side population (SP)), which are enriched for tumour initiating cells (TICs). While many studies identified either CD133 or CD44 as markers useful for enriching for TICs, there is little consensus. This suggests that EOC cells may have a phenotypic plasticity that may preclude the identification of universal markers defining a CSC. The assay that forms the basis of quantifying TICs is the xenograft assay. Considerable controversy surrounds the xenograft assay and it is essential that some of the potential limitations be examined in this review. Highlighting such limitations or weaknesses is required to properly evaluate data and broaden our interpretation of potential mechanisms that might be contributing to the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer.

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Yen-Tzu Tseng, Hung-Fu Liao, Chih-Yun Yu, Chu-Fan Mo and Shau-Ping Lin

Appropriate regulation of epigenome within cells is crucial for the determination of cell fate and contributes to the lifelong maintenance of tissue homeostasis. Epigenomic re-establishment during embryonic prospermatogonia development and fine-tune of the epigenetic landscape in postnatal spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) are two key processes required for functional male germ cell formation. Repression of re-activated transposons and male germline-specific epigenome establishment occur in prospermatogonia, whereas modulations of the epigenetic landscape is important for SSC self-renewal and differentiation to maintain the stem cell pool and support long-term sperm production. Here, we describe the impact of epigenome-related regulators and small non-coding RNAs as well as the influence of epigenome modifications that result from extrinsic signaling for controlling the decision between self-renewal, differentiation and survival in mouse prospermatogonia and SSCs. This article provides a review of epigenome-related molecules involved in cell fate determination in male germ cells and discusses the intriguing questions that arise from these studies.

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A Forand, S Messiaen, R Habert and J Bernardino-Sgherri

The first round of mouse spermatogenesis begins from 3 to 4 days after birth through differentiation of gonocytes into spermatogonial-stem cells and type A spermatogonia. Consequently, this step of differentiation may determine generation of the original population of stem cells and the fertility potential of the adult mouse. We aimed to determine the effect of perinatal exposure to ionizing radiation on the testis at the end of the first wave of spermatogenesis and at sexual maturity. Our results show that, radiation sensitivity of the testis substantially decreases from late foetal life to the end of the first week after birth. In addition, partial or full recovery from radiation induced testicular weight loss occurred between the first round of spermatogenesis and sexual maturity, and this was associated with the stimulation of spermatogonial proliferation. Exposure of mice at 17.5 days after conception or at 1 day after birth to γ-rays decreased the sperm counts at sexual maturity, while exposure of 8 day-old mice had no effect. This suggests that irradiation of late foetal or early neonatal testes has a direct impact on the generation of the neonatal spermatogonial-stem cell pool.

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Jessica E M Dunleavy, Moira K O’Bryan, Peter G Stanton and Liza O’Donnell

As germ cells progress through spermatogenesis, they undergo a dramatic transformation, wherein a single, diploid spermatogonial stem cell ultimately produces thousands of highly specialised, haploid spermatozoa. The cytoskeleton is an integral aspect of all eukaryotic cells. It concomitantly provides both structural support and functional pliability, performing key roles in many fundamental processes including, motility, intracellular trafficking, differentiation and cell division. Accordingly, cytoskeletal dynamics underlie many key spermatogenic processes. This review summarises the organisational and functional aspects of the four major cytoskeletal components (actin, microtubules, intermediate filaments and septins) during the various spermatogenic phases in mammals. We focus on the cytoskeletal machinery of both germ cells and Sertoli cells, and thus, highlight the critical importance of a dynamic and precisely regulated cytoskeleton for male fertility.

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T Amano, M Gertsenstein, A Nagy, H Kurihara and H Suzuki

Epigenetic states of embryonic stem (ES) cells are easily altered by long-term cultivation and lose their developmental potential. To rescue this reduced developmental capacity, nuclear transfer (NT) of ES cells was carried out, and original ES and ES cells from cloned blastocysts (ntES) cells established after NT were compared with in vitro differentiation ability and developmental potential by embryoid body formation and tetraploid aggregation respectively. In the establishment of ntES cell lines, the oocytes fused with the ES cell were activated, and further cultured to cloned blastocysts. When in vitro differentiation ability was examined between original and ntES cell lines derived from ES cells with extensive passages (ES-ep), the day of appearance of simple embryoid body, cystic embryoid body, and spontaneous beating was almost similar. The developmental rates of ES-ep cells, that aggregated with tetraploid embryos to term, ranged from 3 to 6%. Moreover, the majority of live pups died soon after birth. In the ntES cell lines derived from ES-ep cells, developmental rates ranged from 0 to 5%. Those pups also died soon after birth, similar to the ES-ep-derived pups. These results suggest that profound epigenetic modifications of ES cells were retained in the re-established cell lines by NT.

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Maria Kokkinaki, Tin-Lap Lee, Zuping He, Jiji Jiang, Nady Golestaneh, Marie-Claude Hofmann, Wai-Yee Chan and Martin Dym

Spermatogenesis in man starts with spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), and leads to the production of sperm in ∼64 days, common to old and young men. Sperm from elderly men are functional and able to fertilize eggs and produce offspring, even though daily sperm production is more than 50% lower and damage to sperm DNA is significantly higher in older men than in those who are younger. Our hypothesis is that the SSC/spermatogonial progenitors themselves age. To test this hypothesis, we studied the gene expression profile of mouse SSC/progenitor cells at several ages using microarrays. After sequential enzyme dispersion, we purified the SSC/progenitors with immunomagnetic cell sorting using an antibody to GFRA1, a known SSC/progenitor cell marker. RNA was isolated and used for the in vitro synthesis of amplified and labeled cRNAs that were hybridized to the Affymetrix mouse genome microarrays. The experiments were repeated twice with different cell preparations, and statistically significant results are presented. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis was used to confirm the microarray results. Comparison of four age groups (6 days, 21 days, 60 days, and 8 months old) showed a number of genes that were expressed specifically in the older mice. Two of them (i.e. Icam1 and Selp) have also been shown to mark aging hematopoietic stem cells. On the other hand, the expression levels of the genes encoding the SSC markers Gfra1 and Plzf did not seem to be significantly altered by age, indicating that age affects only certain SSC/progenitor properties.

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Margherita Grasso, Andrea Fuso, Lisa Dovere, Dirk G de Rooij, Mario Stefanini, Carla Boitani and Elena Vicini

In mice and other mammals, spermatogenesis is maintained by spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), a cell population belonging to undifferentiated type A spermatogonia. In the accepted model of SSC self-renewal, Asingle (As) spermatogonia are the stem cells, whereas paired (Apaired (Apr)) and chained (Aaligned (Aal)) undifferentiated spermatogonia are committed to differentiation. This model has been recently challenged by evidence that As and chained (Apr and Aal), undifferentiated spermatogonia are heterogeneous in terms of gene expression and function. The expression profile of several markers, such as GFRA1 (the GDNF co-receptor), is heterogeneous among As, Apr and Aal spermatogonia. In this study, we have analysed and quantified the distribution of GFRA1-expressing cells within the different stages of the seminiferous epithelial cycle. We show that in all stages, GFRA1+ chained spermatogonia (Apr to Aal) are more numerous than GFRA1+ As spermatogonia. Numbers of chained GFRA1+ spermatogonia are sharply reduced in stages VII–VIII when Aal differentiate into A1 spermatogonia. GFRA1 expression is regulated by GDNF and in cultures of isolated seminiferous tubules, we found that GDNF expression and secretion by Sertoli cells is stage-dependent, being maximal in stages II–VI and decreasing thereafter. Using qRT-PCR analysis, we found that GDNF regulates the expression of genes such as Tex14, Sohlh1 and Kit (c-Kit) known to be involved in spermatogonial differentiation. Expression of Kit was upregulated by GDNF in a stage-specific manner. Our data indicate that GDNF, besides its crucial role in the self-renewal of stem cells also functions in the differentiation of chained undifferentiated spermatogonia.

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Thaddeus G Golos, M Giakoumopoulos and M A Garthwaite

While the determination of the trophoblast lineage and the facilitation of placental morphogenesis by trophoblast interactions with other cells of the placenta are crucial components for the establishment of pregnancy, these processes are not tractable at the time of human implantation. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) provide an embryonic surrogate to derive insights into these processes. In this review, we will summarize current paradigms which promote trophoblast differentiation from ESCs, and potential opportunities for their use to further define signals directing morphogenesis of the placenta following implantation of the embryo into the endometrium.

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R John Aitken, Jock K Findlay, Karla J Hutt and Jeff B Kerr

Apoptosis is a critical process for regulating both the size and the quality of the male and female germ lines. In this review, we examine the importance of this process during embryonic development in establishing the pool of spermatogonial stem cells and primordial follicles that will ultimately define male and female fertility. We also consider the importance of apoptosis in controlling the number and quality of germ cells that eventually determine reproductive success. The biochemical details of the apoptotic process as it affects germ cells in the mature gonad still await resolution, as do the stimuli that persuade these cells to commit to a pathway that leads to cell death. Our ability to understand and ultimately control the reproductive potential of male and female mammals depends upon a deeper understanding of these fundamental processes.

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Artur Mayerhofer

In healthy men, several layers of inconspicuously flat cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins build the wall of the seminiferous tubules. The cells of this wall, peritubular cells, are not well characterized. They are smooth-muscle-like and contractile and transport immotile sperm, a function important for male fertility. However, their full functional importance, especially their potential contribution to the paracrine regulation of the male gonad, is unknown. In men with impaired spermatogenesis, the architecture of the tubular wall is frequently altered. Deposits of ECM and morphological changes of peritubular cells imply that functions of peritubular cells may be fundamentally altered. To be able to study human peritubular cells and their functions, a culture method was established. It is based on small biopsies of patients with obstructive azoospermia but normal spermatogenesis (human testicular peritubular cells, HTPCs) and non-obstructive azoospermia, impaired spermatogenesis, and testicular fibrosis (HTPCFs). Results obtained from cellular studies and parallel examinations of biopsies provide insights into the repertoire of the secretion products, contractile properties, and plasticity of human peritubular cells. They produce ECM components, including the proteoglycan decorin, which may influence paracrine signaling between testicular cells. They may contribute to the spermatogonial stem cell niche via secreted factors. They are regulated by mast cell and macrophage products, and in response produce factors that can fuel inflammatory changes. They possess a high degree of plasticity, which results in hypertrophy and loss of contractile abilities. The data collectively indicate important roles of inconspicuous testicular peritubular cells in human male fertility and infertility.