In vitro culture of testicular germ cells: regulatory factors and limitations

Growth Factors. 2007 Aug;25(4):236-52. doi: 10.1080/08977190701783400.


Spermatogenesis is regulated mainly by endocrine factors and also by testicular paracrine/autocrine growth factors. These factors are produced by Sertoli cells, germ cells, peritubular cells and interstitial cells, mainly Leydig cells and macrophages. The interactions and the ratio between Sertoli and germ cells in the seminiferous tubules ensure successful spermatogenesis. In order to culture spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in vitro, researchers tried to overcome some of the obstacles -- such as the low number of stem cells in the testis, absence of specific markers to identify SSCs -- in addition to difficulties in keeping the SSCs alive in culture. Recently, some growth factors important for the proliferation and differentiation of SSCs were identified, such as glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), stem cell factor (SCF) and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF); also, markers for SSCs at different stages were reported. Therefore, some groups succeeded in culturing SSCs (under limitations), or more differentiated cells and even were able to produce in vitro germ cells from embryonic stem cells. Thus, success in culturing SSCs is dependent on understanding the molecular mechanisms behind self-renewal and differentiation. Culture of SSCs should be a good tool for discovering new therapeutic avenue for some infertile men or for patients undergoing chemotherapy/radiotherapy (pre-puberty or post-puberty).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Culture Techniques*
  • Hormones / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Meiosis
  • Spermatogenesis*
  • Spermatogonia / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Testis / cytology
  • Testis / embryology


  • Hormones
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins