The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 209 - 214 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 2

Identification of side population cells in mouse primordial germ cells and prenatal testis

Short Communication | Published: 23 February 2011

Maria-Lucia Scaldaferri1, Stefania Fera2, Laura Grisanti2, Massimo Sanchez3, Mario Stefanini2, Massimo De Felici1 and Elena Vicini*,2

1Department of Public Health and Cell Biology, University of Rome Tor Vergata, 2Fondazione Pasteur Cenci Bolognetti, Department of Histology and Medical Embryology “La Sapienza” University of Rome and 3Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy


In mammals, the stem cells of spermatogenesis are derived from an embryonic cell population called primordial germ cells (PGCs). Spermatogonial stem cells displaying the “side population” (SP) phenotype have been identified in the immature and adult mouse testis, but noting is known about the expression of the SP phenotype during prenatal development of germ cells. The SP phenotype, defined as the ability of cells to efflux fluorescent dyes such as Hoechst, is common to several stem/progenitor cell types. In the present study, we analyzed and characterized the Hoechst SP via cytofluorimetric analysis of disaggregated gonads at different time points during embryonic development in mice. To directly test the hypothesis that the SP phenotype is a feature of germ cell lineage, experiments were performed on transgenic animals expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) under the control of the Oct4 promoter, to identify early germ cells up to PGCs. We found that prenatal gonads contain a fraction of SP cells at each stage analyzed, and the percentage of cells in the SP fraction decreases as development proceeds. Surprisingly, more than 50% of the PGCs displayed the SP phenotype at 11.5 dpc (days post coitum). The percentage of germ cells with the SP phenotype decreased steadily with development, to less than 1% at 18.5 dpc. Cytofluorimetric analysis along with immunocytochemistry performed on sorted cells indicated that the SP fraction of prenatal gonads, as in the adult testis, was heterogeneous, being composed of both somatic and germ cells. Both cell types expressed the ABC transporters Abcg2, Abcb1a, Abcb1b and Abcc1. These findings provide evidence that the SP phenotype is a common feature of PGCs and identifies a subpopulation of fetal testis cells including prospermatogonia whose differentiation fate remains to be investigated.


testis development, spermatogonial stem cell, side population, Oct4-GFP

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