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Title: Germ cell development in the human and marmoset fetal testis and the origins of testicular germ cell tumours
Author: Mitchell, Roderick T.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2727 7202
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2010
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Normal germ cell development in the human testis is crucial for subsequent fertility and reproductive health. Disruption of testis development in fetal life can result in deleterious health consequences such as testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS), which includes disorders, such as cryptorchidism, hypospadias, infertility and testicular germ cell tumours (TGCT). A rat model of TDS in which rats are exposed to phthalates in utero has been validated, but does result in the development of TGCT. In humans, TGCTs result from transformation of pre-neoplastic carcinoma in-situ (CIS) cells and these CIS cells are believed to arise from human fetal germ cells during their transition from gonocyte to spermatogonia, based on their morphology and protein expression profile. It has been proposed asynchronous differentiation of germ cells in the human fetal testis may predispose fetal germ cells to become CIS cells. Studying the development of these tumours in humans is difficult because of their fetal origins and prolonged duration from initiation of impaired development to invasive disease. For this reason the use of relevant animal models that can mimic normal and abnormal germ cell development may provide new insight into how TGCT develop. The Common Marmoset monkey, a New World primate exhibits many similarities to the human in terms of reproductive biology and could represent such a model. This thesis aimed to further characterise the origins of CIS cells in the human testis by investigating the protein expression profile of CIS cells in patients with TGCT and comparing them to established markers of human fetal germ cell types using immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence. Quantification of the various subpopulations of CIS and proliferation within these populations was performed. The thesis also investigated the Common Marmoset monkey as a potential model of normal testis and germ cell development by comparing the differentiation and proliferation profile of germ cells with those of the human during fetal and early postnatal life. During the present studies methods were successfully developed that enabled us to use testicular xenografts to recapitulate normal development of immature testes from marmoset and human. This involved grafting pieces of testis tissue subcutaneously under the dorsal skin of immunodeficient mice and retrieving them several weeks later to investigate their development during the grafting period. Xenografts using tissue from fetal, neonatal and juvenile marmosets were performed in addition to testes from first and second trimester human fetuses. Finally the present studies aimed to use the marmoset and the xenografting approach as systems in which to examine the effects of gonadotrophin suppression and phthalate treatment on germ cell differentiation and proliferation, with particular attention to the potential for development of CIS and TGCT. Heterogeneous phenotypes of CIS cells were identified, mostly consistent with those seen in the normal human fetal testis, however some of these CIS cells did not exhibit the same phenotype as germ cells identified in normal fetal testes. In addition it was shown that some of the proteins considered to be ‘classical’ markers of CIS cells, such as the pluripotent transcription factor OCT4, were not expressed in a proportion of the CIS cells. The proliferation index of CIS cells is also significantly higher in those subpopulations with the most ‘undifferentiated’ phenotype (i.e. OCT4+/VASA-). The present studies have generated novel data showing that the marmoset is a good model of fetal and neonatal germ cell development, with similarities to the human in terms of an asynchronous and prolonged period of differentiation and proliferation of germ cells from gonocyte to spermatogonia. This feature is also common to the human, but not a characteristic of the rodent. Fetal, neonatal and pre-pubertal germ cell development can be re-capitulated by xenografting tissue from marmoset and human testes into nude mouse hosts. Human fetal testis grafts produced testosterone and were responsive to hCG stimulation. First trimester human testis xenografts that have not developed fully formed seminiferous cords prior to grafting can complete the process of cord formation whilst grafted in host mice. In addition, germ cells in fetal human and marmoset xenografts can differentiate and proliferate in a similar manner to that seen in the intact non-grafted testis. In the intact neonatal marmoset, suppression of gonadotrophins resulted in a 30% decrease in proliferation, however differentiation of gonocytes is not affected. In-utero treatment of neonatal marmosets with mono-n-butyl phthalate was associated with unusual ‘gonocyte’ clusters, however, di-n-butyl phthalate treatment of mice carrying fetal marmoset xenografts resulted in no visible effects on germ cell differentiation or proliferation and did not result in the development of CIS or TGCT. In conclusion, this thesis has shown that there are many subpopulations of CIS cells of which many have not been previously described. These subpopulations have different characteristics, such as variable proliferation rates and this may indicate the potential for progression or invasiveness. These subpopulations have similar protein expression phenotypes to normal human fetal germ cells although the present studies have identified some CIS cells with phenotypes that are not found in the normal human testis. This thesis has demonstrated that the marmoset is a comparable model to the human in terms of asynchronous fetal germ cell development, which may predispose this species to the development of CIS/TGCT. In addition to the use of intact marmosets, these studies have also demonstrated for the first time that testis xenografting provides a comparable system for testis cord formation, germ cell differentiation and proliferation in fetal/postnatal marmosets and fetal human testis. In addition the marmoset and xenografting models have indicated that phthalates may have minor effects on testis development in the human and marmoset but do not result in CIS or TGCT. These model systems are suitable for further investigation of normal and disrupted testis development.
Supervisor: Sharpe, Richard; Saunders, Philippa. ; Kelnar, Chris. ; Wallace, Hamish. Sponsor: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: testis ; germ cell ; common marmoset ; testicular germ cell tumour ; cell differentiation