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LH Looijenga and JW Oosterhuis

Human germ cell tumours comprise a heterogeneous group of neoplasms. In the testis, three entities are distinguished, the teratomas-yolk sac tumours of the infantile testis, the seminomas and nonseminomas of adolescents and adults, and the spermatocytic seminomas. Studies on epidemiology, histology, clinical behaviour, and chromosomal constitution of these tumours support the concept of distinct entities derived from germ cells but each with a different pathogenesis. Either the teratomas of the infantile testis show no chromosomal aberrations, or display a pattern of over- and under-representation of (parts of) chromosomes as detected in the yolk sac tumours of the infantile testis. In contrast, the seminomas and nonseminomas reveal a consistent pattern of losses and gains, that is, chromosomes 11, 13 and 18, and 7, 8 and X, respectively, that is different from that found in the infantile testis teratomas and yolk sac tumours. The most consistent structural chromosomal abnormality is an isochromosome 12p. Tumours lacking i(12p) have other structural abnormalities of 12p, among them amplification of 12p11.2-p12.1. The pathogenetically relevant genes on 12p11.2-p12.1 are probably on a fragment of about 1.7 mb. Gain of 12p sequences may be related to invasive growth. Gain of chromosome 9 is the only consistent chromosomal anomaly of spermatocytic seminomas. Infantile teratomas and spermatocytic seminomas are benign tumours. Infantile yolk sac tumour is a malignant germ cell tumour. Seminomas and nonseminomas are malignant, and the most common cancer in young Caucasian males. The cure rate of seminomas and non-seminomas with radio- and chemotherapy is over 90%, which is higher than that of any other solid cancer in adults. In addition, the precursor lesions of these tumours can be treated readily, justifying efforts to develop means for early diagnosis. Finally, the pathogenetic relationship between seminomas and nonseminomas, and the available animal models for the three groups of testicular germ cell tumours are discussed.