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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jul 30;110(31):12685-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311548110. Epub 2013 Jul 15.

Tumor suppressor gene Rb is required for self-renewal of spermatogonial stem cells in mice.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.


The retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene Rb is essential for maintaining the quiescence and for regulating the differentiation of somatic stem cells. Inactivation of Rb in somatic stem cells typically leads to their overexpansion, often followed by increased apoptosis, defective terminal differentiation, and tumor formation. However, Rb's roles in germ-line stem cells have not been explored. We conditionally disrupted the Rb gene in mouse germ cells in vivo and discovered unanticipated consequences for GFRa1-protein-expressing A(single) (GFRa1(+) A(s)) spermatogonia, the major source of male germ-line stem cells. Rb-deficient GFRa1(+) A(s) spermatogonia were present at normal density in testes 5 d after birth, but they lacked the capacity for self-renewal, resulting in germ cell depletion by 2 mo of age. Rb deficiency did not affect the proliferative activity of GFRa1(+) A(s) spermatogonia, but their progeny were exclusively transit-amplifying progenitor spermatogonia and did not include GFRa1(+) A(s) spermatogonia. In addition, Rb deficiency caused prolonged proliferation of progenitor spermatogonia, transiently enlarging this population. Despite these defects, Rb deficiency did not block terminal differentiation into functional sperm; offspring were readily obtained from young males whose germ cell pool was not yet depleted. We conclude that Rb is required for self-renewal of germ-line stem cells, but contrary to its critical roles in somatic stem cells, it is dispensable for their proliferative activity and terminal differentiation. Thus, this study identifies an unexpected function for Rb in maintaining the stem cell pool in the male germ line.


fertility; spermatogenesis; testis

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