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E Wolff, M M Suplicki and R Behr

Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are the embryonic precursors of spermatozoa and eggs. In mammals, PGCs arise early in embryonic development and migrate from their tissue of specification over a significant distance to reach their destinations, the genital ridges. However, the exact mechanism of translocation is still debated. A study on human embryos demonstrated a very close spatial association between migrating PGCs and developing peripheral nerves. Thus, it was proposed that peripheral nerves act as guiding structures for migrating PGCs. The goal of the present study is to test whether the association between nerves and PGCs may be a human-specific finding or whether this represents a general strategy to guide PGCs in mammals. Therefore, we investigated embryos of different developmental stages from the mouse and a non-human primate, the marmoset monkey (Callithrix jacchus), covering the phase from PGC emergence to their arrival in the gonadal ridge. Embryo sections were immunohistochemically co-stained for tubulin beta-3 chain (TUBB3) to visualise neurons and Octamer-binding protein 4 (OCT4 (POU5F1)) as marker for PGCs. The distance between PGCs and the nearest detectable neuron was measured. We discovered that in all embryos analysed of both species, the majority of PGCs (>94%) was found at a minimum distance of 50 µm to the closest neuron and, more importantly, that the PGCs had reached the gonads before any TUBB3 signal could be detected in the vicinity of the gonads. In conclusion, our data indicate that PGC migration along peripheral nerves is not a general mechanism in mammals.

Free access

M Godmann, C Kosan and R Behr

Krüppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) is a zinc finger transcription factor critically involved in cell proliferation, differentiation, and carcinogenesis. Recently, KLF4 has also been used for the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells. In this study, we analyzed Klf4 expression in different mouse tissues using northern blot analysis and immunohistochemistry. Focusing on the male and female reproductive tract, we showed for the first time that KLF4 is expressed in the epithelia of the murine uterus and the vagina. In the male reproductive tract, we detected KLF4 in the epithelia of the epididymis, ductus deferens, coagulating gland, and the penis. As KLF4 is strongly inducible by FSH signaling in Sertoli cells and as this transcription factor is also involved in Sertoli cell development, we employed the mouse Sertoli cell line TM4 as a model system to investigate i) the induction kinetics of Klf4 upon activation of the cAMP/protein kinase A pathway by forskolin and ii) the effects of Klf4 induction on TM4 cell cycle progression. Interestingly, Klf4 mRNA and protein were rapidly but transiently induced, reaching peak levels after 90–120 min and declining to basal levels within 4 h. Compared with the inducible cAMP early repressor, an immediate early response gene, the induction kinetics of Klf4 is much faster. In conclusion, Klf4 is an immediate early gene in TM4 cells and its expression in several epithelia of the male and female reproductive tract suggests an important role of Klf4 in mouse reproductive functions.

Open access

B Fereydouni, C Drummer, N Aeckerle, S Schlatt and R Behr

Oogonia are characterized by diploidy and mitotic proliferation. Human and mouse oogonia express several factors such as OCT4, which are characteristic of pluripotent cells. In human, almost all oogonia enter meiosis between weeks 9 and 22 of prenatal development or undergo mitotic arrest and subsequent elimination from the ovary. As a consequence, neonatal human ovaries generally lack oogonia. The same was found in neonatal ovaries of the rhesus monkey, a representative of the old world monkeys (Catarrhini). By contrast, proliferating oogonia were found in adult prosimians (now called Strepsirrhini), which is a group of ‘lower’ primates. The common marmoset monkey (Callithrix jacchus) belongs to the new world monkeys (Platyrrhini) and is increasingly used in reproductive biology and stem cell research. However, ovarian development in the marmoset monkey has not been widely investigated. Herein, we show that the neonatal marmoset ovary has an extremely immature histological appearance compared with the human ovary. It contains numerous oogonia expressing the pluripotency factors OCT4A, SALL4, and LIN28A (LIN28). The pluripotency factor-positive germ cells also express the proliferation marker MKI67 (Ki-67), which has previously been shown in the human ovary to be restricted to premeiotic germ cells. Together, the data demonstrate the primitiveness of the neonatal marmoset ovary compared with human. This study may introduce the marmoset monkey as a non-human primate model to experimentally study the aspects of primate primitive gonad development, follicle assembly, and germ cell biology in vivo.

Free access

S Albert, J Ehmcke, J Wistuba, K Eildermann, R Behr, S Schlatt and J Gromoll

The seminiferous epithelium in the nonhuman primate Callithrix jacchus is similarly organized to man. This monkey has therefore been used as a preclinical model for spermatogenesis and testicular stem cell physiology. However, little is known about the developmental dynamics of germ cells in the postnatal primate testis. In this study, we analyzed testes of newborn, 8-week-old, and adult marmosets employing immunohistochemistry using pluripotent stem cell and germ cell markers DDX4 (VASA), POU5F1 (OCT3/4), and TFAP2C (AP-2 γ). Stereological and morphometric techniques were applied for quantitative analysis of germ cell populations and testicular histological changes. Quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) of testicular mRNA was applied using 16 marker genes establishing the corresponding profiles during postnatal testicular development. Testis size increased during the first 8 weeks of life with the main driver being longitudinal outgrowth of seminiferous cords. The number of DDX4-positive cells per testis doubled between birth and 8 weeks of age whereas TFAP2C- and POU5F1-positive cells remained unchanged. This increase in DDX4-expressing cells indicates dynamic growth of the differentiated A-spermatogonial population. The presence of cells expressing POU5F1 and TFAP2C after 8 weeks reveals the persistence of less differentiated germ cells. The mRNA and protein profiles determined by qRT-PCR and western blot in newborn, 8-week-old, and adult marmosets corroborated the immunohistochemical findings. In conclusion, we demonstrated the presence of distinct spermatogonial subpopulations in the primate testis exhibiting different dynamics during early testicular development. Our study demonstrates the suitability of the marmoset testis as a model for human testicular development.