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  • Author: Gurpreet Manku x
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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.