Biology of reproduction

Transcriptional and translational heterogeneity among neonatal mouse spermatogonia.

PMID 25568304


Spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) are a subset of undifferentiated spermatogonia responsible for ongoing spermatogenesis in mammalian testes. Spermatogonial stem cells arise from morphologically homogeneous prospermatogonia, but growing evidence suggests that only a subset of prospermatogonia develops into the foundational SSC pool. This predicts that subtypes of undifferentiated spermatogonia with discrete mRNA and protein signatures should be distinguishable in neonatal testes. We used single-cell quantitative RT-PCR to examine mRNA levels of 172 genes in individual spermatogonia from 6-day postnatal (P6) mouse testes. Cells enriched from P6 testes using the StaPut or THY1(+) magnetic cell sorting methods exhibited considerable heterogeneity in the abundance of specific germ cell and stem cell mRNAs, segregating into one somatic and three distinct spermatogonial clusters. However, P6 Id4-eGFP(+) transgenic spermatogonia, which are known to be enriched for SSCs, were more homogeneous in their mRNA levels, exhibiting uniform levels for the majority of genes examined (122 of 172). Interestingly, these cells displayed nonuniform (50 of 172) expression of a smaller cohort of these genes, suggesting there is substantial heterogeneity even within the Id4-eGFP(+) population. Further, although immunofluorescence staining largely demonstrated conformity between mRNA and protein levels, some proteins were observed in patterns that were disparate from those detected for the corresponding mRNAs in Id4-eGFP(+) spermatogonia (e.g., Kit, Sohlh2, Stra8), suggesting additional heterogeneity is introduced at the posttranscriptional level. Taken together, these data demonstrate the existence of multiple spermatogonial subtypes in P6 mouse testes and raise the intriguing possibility that these subpopulations may correlate with the development of functionally distinct spermatogenic cell types.