Stem cells are maintained by both stem cell-extrinsic niche signals and stem cell-intrinsic factors. During murine spermatogenesis, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) signal emanated from Sertoli cells and germ cell-intrinsic factor NANOS2 represent key regulators for the maintenance of spermatogonial stem cells. However, it remains unclear how these factors intersect in stem cells to control their cellular state. Here, we show that GDNF signaling is essential to maintain NANOS2 expression, and overexpression of Nanos2 can alleviate the stem cell loss phenotype caused by the depletion of Gfra1, a receptor for GDNF. By using an inducible Cre-loxP system, we show that NANOS2 expression is downregulated upon the conditional knockout (cKO) of Gfra1, while ectopic expression of Nanos2 in GFRA1-negative spermatogonia does not induce de novo GFRA1 expression. Furthermore, overexpression of Nanos2 in the Gfra1-cKO testes prevents precocious differentiation of the Gfra1-knockout stem cells and partially rescues the stem cell loss phenotypes of Gfra1-deficient mice, indicating that the stem cell differentiation can be suppressed by NANOS2 even in the absence of GDNF signaling. Taken together, we suggest that NANOS2 acts downstream of GDNF signaling to maintain undifferentiated state of spermatogonial stem cells.
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