Changes in the profile of simple mucin-type O-glycans and polypeptide GalNAc-transferases in human testis and testicular neoplasms are associated with germ cell maturation and tumour differentiation

Virchows Arch. 2007 Oct;451(4):805-14. doi: 10.1007/s00428-007-0478-4. Epub 2007 Aug 11.


Testicular germ cell tumours (TGCT) exhibit remarkable ability to differentiate into virtually all somatic tissue types. In this study, we investigated changes in mucin-type O-glycosylation, which have been associated with somatic cell differentiation and cancer. Expression profile of simple mucin-type O-glycans (Tn, sialyl-Tn, T), histo-blood group H and A variants and six polypeptide GalNAc-transferases (T1-4, T6, T11) that control the site and density of O-glycosylation were analysed by immunohistochemistry during human testis development and in TGCT. Normal testis showed a restricted pattern; gonocytes expressed abundant sialyl-Tn and sialyl-T, and adult spermatogonia were devoid of any glycans, whereas spermatocytes and spermatids expressed exclusively glycans Tn and T and the GalNAc-T3 isoform. A subset of mature ejaculated spermatozoa expressed an additional glycan sialyl-T. The pattern found in testicular neoplasms recapitulated the developmental order: Pre-invasive carcinoma in situ (CIS) cells and seminoma expressed fetal type sialylated glycans in keeping with their gonocyte-like phenotype. Neither simple mucin-type O-glycans nor GalNAc-transferase isoforms were found in undifferentiated nonseminoma, i.e. embryonal carcinoma, whereas teratomas expressed them all to some extent but in a disorganized manner. We concluded that simple mucin-type O-glycans and their transferases are developmentally regulated in the human testis, with profound changes associated with neoplasia. The restricted O-glycosylation pattern in haploid germ cells suggests a role in their maturation or egg recognition/fertilization warranting further studies in male infertility, whereas the findings in TGCT provide new diagnostic tools and support our hypothesis that testicular cancer is a developmental disease of germ cell differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate / genetics
  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate / metabolism*
  • Antigens, Viral, Tumor / genetics
  • Antigens, Viral, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • N-Acetylgalactosaminyltransferases / genetics
  • N-Acetylgalactosaminyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Spermatogenesis / physiology
  • Spermatozoa / pathology
  • Testicular Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Testicular Neoplasms / pathology
  • Testis / metabolism*
  • Testis / pathology


  • Antigens, Tumor-Associated, Carbohydrate
  • Antigens, Viral, Tumor
  • Tn antigen
  • sialosyl-Tn antigen
  • N-Acetylgalactosaminyltransferases
  • polypeptide N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase