The testis produces sperm throughout the male reproductive lifespan by balancing self-renewal and differentiation of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs). Part of the SSC niche is thought to lie outside the seminiferous tubules of the testis; however, specific interstitial components of the niche that regulate spermatogonial divisions and differentiation remain undefined. We identified distinct populations of testicular macrophages, one of which lies on the surface of seminiferous tubules, in close apposition to areas of tubules enriched for undifferentiated spermatogonia. These macrophages express spermatogonial proliferation- and differentiation-inducing factors, such as colony-stimulating factor 1 (CSF1) and enzymes involved in retinoic acid (RA) biosynthesis. We show that transient depletion of macrophages leads to a disruption in spermatogonial differentiation. These findings reveal an unexpected role for macrophages in the spermatogonial niche in the testis and raise the possibility that macrophages play previously unappreciated roles in stem/progenitor cell regulation in other tissues.
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