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Juho-Antti Mäkelä and Robin M Hobbs

The intricate molecular and cellular interactions between spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) and their cognate niche form the basis for life-long sperm production. To maintain long-term fertility and sustain sufficiently high levels of spermatogenesis, a delicate balance needs to prevail between the different niche factors that control cell fate decisions of SSCs by promoting self-renewal, differentiation priming or spermatogenic commitment of undifferentiated spermatogonia (Aundiff). Previously the SSC niche was thought to be formed primarily by Sertoli cells. However, recent research has indicated that many distinct cell types within the testis contribute to the SSC niche including most somatic cell populations and differentiating germ cells. Moreover, postnatal testis development involves maturation of somatic supporting cell populations and onset of cyclic function of the seminiferous epithelium. The stochastic and flexible behavior of Aundiff further complicates the definition of the SSC niche. Unlike in invertebrate species, providing a simple anatomical description of the SSC niche in the mouse is therefore challenging. Rather, the niche needs to be understood as a dynamic system that is able to serve the long-term reproductive function and maintenance of fertility both under steady-state and during development plus regeneration. Recent data from us and others have also shown that Aundiff reversibly transition between differentiation-primed and self-renewing states based on availability of niche-derived cues. This review focuses on defining the current understanding of the SSC niche and the elements involved in its regulation.