Transcriptome profiling reveals signaling conditions dictating human spermatogonia fate in vitro

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 28;117(30):17832-17841. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2000362117. Epub 2020 Jul 13.


Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) are essential for the generation of sperm and have potential therapeutic value for treating male infertility, which afflicts >100 million men world-wide. While much has been learned about rodent SSCs, human SSCs remain poorly understood. Here, we molecularly characterize human SSCs and define conditions favoring their culture. To achieve this, we first identified a cell-surface protein, PLPPR3, that allowed purification of human primitive undifferentiated spermatogonia (uSPG) highly enriched for SSCs. Comparative RNA-sequencing analysis of these enriched SSCs with differentiating SPG (KIT+ cells) revealed the full complement of genes that shift expression during this developmental transition, including genes encoding key components in the TGF-β, GDNF, AKT, and JAK-STAT signaling pathways. We examined the effect of manipulating these signaling pathways on cultured human SPG using both conventional approaches and single-cell RNA-sequencing analysis. This revealed that GDNF and BMP8B broadly support human SPG culture, while activin A selectively supports more advanced human SPG. One condition-AKT pathway inhibition-had the unique ability to selectively support the culture of primitive human uSPG. This raises the possibility that supplementation with an AKT inhibitor could be used to culture human SSCs in vitro for therapeutic applications.

Keywords: PLPPR3; RNA sequencing; human spermatogonia; in vitro culture; testis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Separation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Computational Biology
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Male
  • Phosphatidate Phosphatase / genetics
  • Phosphatidate Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Spermatogonia / cytology*
  • Spermatogonia / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome*


  • Biomarkers
  • Phosphatidate Phosphatase