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Spermatogonial Stem Cell Numbers Are Reduced by Transient Inhibition of GDNF Signaling but Restored by Self-Renewing Replication when Signaling Resumes


One cause of human male infertility is a scarcity of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) in testes with Sertoli cells that neither produce adequate amounts of GDNF nor form the Sertoli-Sertoli junctions that form the blood-testis barrier (BTB). These patients raise the issue of whether a pool of SSCs, depleted due to inadequate GDNF stimulation, will expand if normal signaling is restored. Here, we reduce adult mouse SSC numbers by 90% using a chemical-genetic approach that reversibly inhibits GDNF signaling. Signal resumption causes all remaining SSCs to replicate immediately, but they primarily form differentiating progenitor spermatogonia. Subsequently, self-renewing replication restores SSC numbers. Testicular GDNF levels are not increased during restoration. However, SSC replication decreases as numbers of SSCs and progenitors increase, suggesting important regulatory interactions among these cells. Finally, sequential loss of SSCs and then pachytene spermatocytes causes dissolution of the BTB, thereby recapitulating another important characteristic of some infertile men.

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