Identifying genes important for spermatogonial stem cell self-renewal and survival

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jun 20;103(25):9524-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0603332103. Epub 2006 Jun 1.


Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) are the foundation for spermatogenesis and, thus, preservation of a species. Because of stem cell rarity, studying their self-renewal is greatly facilitated by in vitro culture of enriched biologically active cell populations. A recently developed culture method identified glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) as the essential growth factor that supports in vitro self-renewal of SSCs and results in an increase in their number. This system is a good model to study mechanisms of stem cell self-renewal because of the well defined culture conditions, enriched cell population, and available transplantation assay. By withdrawing and replacing GDNF in culture medium, we identified regulated expression of many genes by using microarray analysis. The expression levels of six of these genes were dramatically decreased by GDNF withdrawal and increased by GDNF replacement. To demonstrate the biological significance of the identified GDNF-regulated genes, we examined the importance of the most responsive of the six, bcl6b, a transcriptional repressor. By using siRNA to reduce transcript levels, Bcl6b was shown to be crucial for SSC maintenance in vitro. Moreover, evaluation of Bcl6b-null male testes revealed degeneration and/or absence of active spermatogenesis in 24 +/- 7% of seminiferous tubules. These data suggest that Bcl6b is an important molecule in SSC self-renewal and validate the biological relevance of the GDNF-regulated genes identified through microarray analysis. In addition, comparison of data generated in this study to other stem cell types suggests that self-renewal in SSCs is regulated by distinctly different molecular mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / pharmacology
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics
  • Spermatogonia / cytology*
  • Spermatogonia / drug effects
  • Spermatogonia / metabolism*
  • Stem Cells / chemistry*
  • Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / drug effects
  • Time Factors


  • Bcl6b protein, mouse
  • Gfra1 protein, mouse
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors
  • Repressor Proteins

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE4799