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Ha Thi Nguyen, Kurt Jacobs and Claudia Spits

Human pluripotent stem cells have the capacity to self-renew indefinitely and the ability to differentiate into all cell types of a human body. These characteristics instill them with an enormous promise in regenerative medicine, where they could be used in cell, tissue and even organ-based replacement therapy. In this review, we discuss their potential clinical applications and the advantages and pitfalls for the different types of human pluripotent stem cells to transition from the bench to the bedside. We provide an overview of the current clinical trials, and the specific challenges we are still facing, including immune compatibility, suboptimal differentiation, risk of tumor formation and genome instability.

Free access

Ramiro Alberio, Keith H Campbell and Andrew D Johnson

Recent scientific achievements in cell and developmental biology have provided unprecedented opportunities for advances in biomedical research. The demonstration that fully differentiated cells can reverse their gene expression profile to that of a pluripotent cell, and the successful derivation and culture of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have fuelled hopes for applications in regenerative medicine. These advances have been put to public scrutiny raising legal, moral and ethical issues which have resulted in different levels of acceptance. Ethical issues concerning the use of cloned human embryos for the derivation of stem cells have stimulated the search for alternative methods for reversing differentiated cells into multi/pluripotent cells. In this article, we will review the present state of these reprogramming technologies and discuss their relative success. We also overview reprogramming events after somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), as they may further instruct ex ovo strategies for cellular manipulation.

Free access

Yi Zheng, Yaqing Zhang, Rongfeng Qu, Ying He, Xiue Tian and Wenxian Zeng

Spermatogenesis, an elaborate and male-specific process in adult testes by which a number of spermatozoa are produced constantly for male fertility, relies on spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs). As a sub-population of undifferentiated spermatogonia, SSCs are capable of both self-renewal (to maintain sufficient quantities) and differentiation into mature spermatozoa. SSCs are able to convert to pluripotent stem cells during in vitro culture, thus they could function as substitutes for human embryonic stem cells without ethical issues. In addition, this process does not require exogenous transcription factors necessary to produce induced-pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells. Moreover, combining genetic engineering with germ cell transplantation would greatly facilitate the generation of transgenic animals. Since germ cell transplantation into infertile recipient testes was first established in 1994, in vivo and in vitro study and manipulation of SSCs in rodent testes have been progressing at a staggering rate. By contrast, their counterparts in domestic animals, despite the failure to reach a comparable level, still burgeoned and showed striking advances. This review outlines the recent progressions of characterization, isolation, in vitro propagation, and transplantation of spermatogonia/SSCs from domestic animals, thereby shedding light on future exploration of these cells with high value, as well as contributing to the development of reproductive technology for large animals.

Free access

R Michael Roberts, Kyle M Loh, Mitsuyoshi Amita, Andreia S Bernardo, Katsuyuki Adachi, Andrei P Alexenko, Danny J Schust, Laura C Schulz, Bhanu Prakash V L Telugu, Toshihiko Ezashi and Roger A Pedersen

It is imperative to unveil the full range of differentiated cell types into which human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) can develop. The need is twofold: it will delimit the therapeutic utility of these stem cells and is necessary to place their position accurately in the developmental hierarchy of lineage potential. Accumulated evidence suggested that hPSC could develop in vitro into an extraembryonic lineage (trophoblast (TB)) that is typically inaccessible to pluripotent embryonic cells during embryogenesis. However, whether these differentiated cells are truly authentic TB has been challenged. In this debate, we present a case for and a case against TB differentiation from hPSCs. By analogy to other differentiation systems, our debate is broadly applicable, as it articulates higher and more challenging standards for judging whether a given cell type has been genuinely produced from hPSC differentiation.

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Behrouz Aflatoonian and Harry Moore

Mammalian gametes are derived from a founder population of primordial germ cells (PGCs) that are determined early in embryogenesis and set aside for unique development. Understanding the mechanisms of PGC determination and differentiation is important for elucidating causes of infertility and how endocrine disrupting chemicals may potentially increase susceptibility to congenital reproductive abnormalities and conditions such as testicular cancer in adulthood (testicular dysgenesis syndrome). Primordial germ cells are closely related to embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and embryonic germ (EG) cells and comparisons between these cell types are providing new information about pluripotency and epigenetic processes. Murine ESCs can differentiate to PGCs, gametes and even blastocysts – recently live mouse pups were born from sperm generated from mESCs. Although investigations are still preliminary, human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) apparently display a similar developmental capacity to generate PGCs and immature gametes. Exactly how such gamete-like cells are generated during stem cell culture remains unclear especially as in vitro conditions are ill-defined. The findings are discussed in relation to the mechanisms of human PGC and gamete development and the biotechnology of hESCs and hEG cells.

Free access

Miodrag Stojkovic, Majlinda Lako, Tom Strachan and Alison Murdoch

Human embryonic stem (hES) cells are pluripotent cells derived from the inner cell mass cells of blastocysts with the potential to maintain an undifferentiated state indefinitely. Fully characterised hES cell lines express typical stem cell markers, possess high levels of telomerase activity, show normal karyotype and have the potential to differentiate into numerous cell types under in vitro and in vivo conditions. Therefore, hES cells are potentially valuable for the development of cell transplantation therapies for the treatment of various human diseases. However, there are a number of factors which may limit the medical application of hES cells: (a) continuous culture of hES cells in an undifferentiated state requires the presence of feeder layers and animal-based ingredients which incurs a risk of cross-transfer of pathogens; (b) hES cells demonstrate high genomic instability and non-predictable differentiation after long-term growth; and (c) differentiated hES cells express molecules which could cause immune rejection. In this review we summarise recent progress in the derivation and growth of undifferentiated hES cells and their differentiated progeny, and the problems associated with these techniques. We also examine the potential use of the therapeutic cloning technique to derive isogenic hES cells.

Free access

Nobuhiro Shimozawa, Shinichiro Nakamura, Ichiro Takahashi, Masanori Hatori and Tadashi Sankai

Several cell types from the African green monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops), such as red blood cells, primary culture cells from kidney, and the Vero cell line, are valuable sources for biomedical research and testing. Embryonic stem (ES) cells that are established from blastocysts have pluripotency to differentiate into these and other types of cells. We examined an in vitro culture system of zygotes produced by ICSI in African green monkeys and attempted to establish ES cells. Culturing with and without a mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cell monolayer resulted in the development of ICSI-derived zygotes to the blastocyst stage, while culturing with a buffalo rat liver cell monolayer yielded no development (3/14, 21.4% and 6/31, 19.4% vs 0/23, 0% respectively; P<0.05). One of the nine blastocysts, which had been one of the zygotes co-cultured with MEF cells, formed flat colonies consisting of cells with large nuclei, similar to other primate ES cell lines. The African green monkey ES (AgMES) cells expressed pluripotency markers, formed teratomas consisting of three embryonic germ layer tissues, and had a normal chromosome number. Furthermore, expression of the germ cell markers CD9 and DPPA3 (STELLA) was detected in the embryoid bodies, suggesting that AgMES cells might have the potential ability to differentiate into germ cells. The results suggested that MEF cells greatly affected the quality of the inner cell mass of the blastocysts. In addition, AgMES cells would be a precious resource for biomedical research such as other primate ES cell lines.

Free access

Chelsea Marcho, Wei Cui and Jesse Mager

Successful mammalian development requires descendants of single-cell zygotes to differentiate into diverse cell types even though they contain the same genetic material. Preimplantation dynamics are first driven by the necessity of reprogramming haploid parental epigenomes to reach a totipotent state. This process requires extensive erasure of epigenetic marks shortly after fertilization. During the few short days after formation of the zygote, epigenetic programs are established and are essential for the first lineage decisions and differentiation. Here we review the current understanding of DNA methylation and histone modification dynamics responsible for these early changes during mammalian preimplantation development. In particular, we highlight insights that have been gained through next-generation sequencing technologies comparing human embryos to other models as well as the recent discoveries of active DNA demethylation mechanisms at play during preimplantation.

Open access

Rupsha Fraser and Chih-Jen Lin

Gametogenesis (spermatogenesis and oogenesis) is accompanied by the acquisition of gender-specific epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation, histone modifications and regulation by small RNAs, to form highly differentiated, but transcriptionally silent cell-types in preparation for fertilisation. Upon fertilisation, extensive global epigenetic reprogramming takes place to remove the previously acquired epigenetic marks and produce totipotent zygotic states. It is the aim of this review to delineate the cellular and molecular events involved in maternal, paternal and zygotic epigenetic reprogramming from the time of gametogenesis, through fertilisation, to the initiation of zygotic genome activation for preimplantation embryonic development. Recent studies have begun to uncover the indispensable functions of epigenetic players during gametogenesis, fertilisation and preimplantation embryo development, and a more comprehensive understanding of these early events will be informative for increasing pregnancy success rates, adding particular value to assisted fertility programmes.

Free access

Ikko Kawashima and Kazuhiro Kawamura

The mammalian ovary is an organ that controls female germ cell development, storing them and releasing mature oocytes for transporting to the oviduct. During the fetal stage, female germ cells change from a proliferative state to meiosis before forming follicles with the potential for the growth of surrounding somatic cells. Understanding of molecular and physiological bases of germ cell development in the fetal ovary contributed not only to the elucidation of genetic disorders in primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), but also to the advancement of novel treatments for patients with POI. Accumulating evidence indicates that mutations in NOBOX, DAZL and FIGLAgenes are associated with POI. In addition, cell biology studies revealed the important roles of these genes as essential translational factors for germ cell development. Recent insights into the role of the PI3K (phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase)-Akt signaling pathway in primordial follicle activation allowed the development of a new infertility treatment, IVA (in vitro activation), leading to successful pregnancy/delivery in POI patients. Furthermore, elucidation of genetic dynamics underlying female germ cell development could allow regeneration of oocytes from ES (embryonic stem)/iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells in mammals. The purpose of this review is to summarize basic findings related to female germ cell development and potential clinical implications, especially focusing on POI etiologies. We also summarize evolving new POI therapies based on IVA as well as oocyte regeneration.