Infertility is a major and largely incurable disease caused by disruption and loss of germ cells. It affects 10–15% of couples, and male factor accounts for half of the cases. To obtain human male germ cells ‘especially functional spermatids’ is essential for treating male infertility. Currently, much progress has been made on generating male germ cells, including spermatogonia, spermatocytes, and spermatids, from various types of stem cells. These germ cells can also be used in investigation of the pathology of male infertility. In this review, we focused on advances on obtaining male differentiated germ cells from different kinds of stem cells, with an emphasis on the embryonic stem (ES) cells, the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs). We illustrated the generation of male differentiated germ cells from ES cells, iPS cells and SSCs, and we summarized the phenotype for these stem cells, spermatocytes and spermatids. Moreover, we address the differentiation potentials of ES cells, iPS cells and SSCs. We also highlight the advantages, disadvantages and concerns on derivation of the differentiated male germ cells from several types of stem cells. The ability of generating mature and functional male gametes from stem cells could enable us to understand the precise etiology of male infertility and offer an invaluable source of autologous male gametes for treating male infertility of azoospermia patients.
Jingmei Hou, Shi Yang, Hao Yang, Yang Liu, Yun Liu, Yanan Hai, Zheng Chen, Ying Guo, Yuehua Gong, Wei-Qiang Gao, Zheng Li and Zuping He
Amy Ralston and Janet Rossant
The flurry of recent publications regarding reprogramming of mature cell types to induced pluripotent stem cells raises the question: what exactly is pluripotency? A functional definition is provided by examination of the developmental potential of pluripotent stem cell types. Defining pluripotency at the molecular level, however, can be a greater challenge. Here, we examine the emerging list of genes associated with induced pluripotency, with particular attention to their functional requirement in the mouse embryo. Knowledge of the requirement for these genes in the embryo and in embryonic stem cells will advance our understanding of how to reverse the developmental clock for therapeutic benefit.
Fariborz Izadyar, Francis Pau, Joel Marh, Natalia Slepko, Tracy Wang, Rafael Gonzalez, Thomas Ramos, Kyle Howerton, Chauncey Sayre and Francisco Silva
Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) maintain spermatogenesis by self-renewal and generation of spermatogonia committed to differentiation. Under certain in vitro conditions, SSCs from both neonatal and adult mouse testis can reportedly generate multipotent germ cell (mGC) lines that have characteristics and differentiation potential similar to embryonic stem (ES) cells. However, mGCs generated in different laboratories showed different germ cell characteristics, i.e., some retain their SSC properties and some have lost them completely. This raises an important question: whether mGC lines have been generated from different subpopulations in the mouse testes. To unambiguously identify and track germ line stem cells, we utilized a transgenic mouse model expressing green fluorescence protein under the control of a germ cell-specific Pou5f1 (Oct4) promoter. We found two distinct populations among the germ line stem cells with regard to their expression of transcription factor Pou5f1 and c-Kit receptor. Only the POU5F1+/c-Kit+ subset of mouse germ line stem cells, when isolated from either neonatal or adult testes and cultured in a complex mixture of growth factors, generates cell lines that express pluripotent ES markers, i.e., Pou5f1, Nanog, Sox2, Rex1, Dppa5, SSEA-1, and alkaline phosphatase, exhibit high telomerase activity, and differentiate into multiple lineages, including beating cardiomyocytes, neural cells, and chondrocytes. These data clearly show the existence of two distinct populations within germ line stem cells: one destined to become SSC and the other with the ability to generate multipotent cell lines with some pluripotent characteristics. These findings raise interesting questions about the relativity of pluripotency and the plasticity of germ line stem cells.
Go Nagamatsu and Katsuhiko Hayashi
Reconstitution in culture of biological processes, such as differentiation and organization, is a key challenge in regenerative medicine, and one in which stem cell technology plays a central role. Pluripotent stem cells and spermatogonial stem cells are useful materials for reconstitution of germ cell development in vitro, as they are capable of differentiating into gametes. Reconstitution of germ cell development, termed in vitro gametogenesis, will provide an experimental platform for a better understanding of germ cell development, as well as an alternative source of gametes for reproduction, with the potential to cure infertility. Since germ cells are the cells for ‘the next generation’, both the culture system and its products must be carefully evaluated. In this issue, we summarize the progress in in vitro gametogenesis, most of which has been made using mouse models, as well as the future challenges in this field.
Irina Polejaeva and Shoukhrat Mitalipov
Mouse embryonic chimeras are a well-established tool for studying cell lineage commitment and pluripotency. Experimental chimeras were successfully produced by combining two or more preimplantation embryos or by introducing into host embryo cultured pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Chimera production using genetically modified ESCs became the method of choice for the generation of knockout or knockin mice. Although the derivation of ESCs or ESC-like cells has been reported for other species, only mouse and rat pluripotent stem cells have been shown to contribute to germline-competent chimeras, which is the defining feature of ESCs. Herein, we describe different approaches employed for the generation of embryonic chimeras, define chimera-competent cell types, and describe cases of spontaneous chimerism in humans. We also review the current state of derivation of pluripotent stem cells in several species and discuss outcomes of various chimera studies when such cells are used.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.