Human adult spermatogonial stem cells (hSSCs) must balance self-renewal and differentiation. To understand how this is achieved, we profiled DNA methylation and open chromatin (ATAC-seq) in SSEA4+ hSSCs, analyzed bulk and single-cell RNA transcriptomes (RNA-seq) in SSEA4+ hSSCs and differentiating c-KIT+ spermatogonia, and performed validation studies via immunofluorescence. First, DNA hypomethylation at embryonic developmental genes supports their epigenetic "poising" in hSSCs for future/embryonic expression, while core pluripotency genes (OCT4 and NANOG) were transcriptionally and epigenetically repressed. Interestingly, open chromatin in hSSCs was strikingly enriched in binding sites for pioneer factors (NFYA/B, DMRT1, and hormone receptors). Remarkably, single-cell RNA-seq clustering analysis identified four cellular/developmental states during hSSC differentiation, involving major transitions in cell-cycle and transcriptional regulators, splicing and signaling factors, and glucose/mitochondria regulators. Overall, our results outline the dynamic chromatin/transcription landscape operating in hSSCs and identify crucial molecular pathways that accompany the transition from quiescence to proliferation and differentiation.
Keywords: DNA methylation; hormone receptors; human spermatogonial stem cells; metabolism; open chromatin; pluripotency; single-cell RNA-seq; spermatogenesis.
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