Characterization of Nestin-positive stem Leydig cells as a potential source for the treatment of testicular Leydig cell dysfunction

Mei Hua Jiang, Bing Cai, Ying Tuo, Jiancheng Wang, Zhi Jun Zang, Xiang'an Tu, Yong Gao, Zhijian Su, Weiqiang Li, Guilan Li, Min Zhang, Jianwei Jiao, Zi Wan, Chunhua Deng, Bruce T Lahn, Andy Peng Xiang
Cell Research 2014, 24 (12): 1466-85
The ability to identify and isolate lineage-specific stem cells from adult tissues could facilitate cell replacement therapy. Leydig cells (LCs) are the primary source of androgen in the mammalian testis, and the prospective identification of stem Leydig cells (SLCs) may offer new opportunities for treating testosterone deficiency. Here, in a transgenic mouse model expressing GFP driven by the Nestin (Nes) promoter, we observed Nes-GFP+ cells located in the testicular interstitial compartment where SLCs normally reside. We showed that these Nes-GFP+ cells expressed LIFR and PDGFR-α, but not LC lineage markers. We further observed that these cells were capable of clonogenic self-renewal and extensive proliferation in vitro and could differentiate into neural or mesenchymal cell lineages, as well as LCs, with the ability to produce testosterone, under defined conditions. Moreover, when transplanted into the testes of LC-disrupted or aging models, the Nes-GFP+ cells colonized the interstitium and partially increased testosterone production, and then accelerated meiotic and post-meiotic germ cell recovery. In addition, we further demonstrated that CD51 might be a putative cell surface marker for SLCs, similar with Nestin. Taken together, these results suggest that Nes-GFP+ cells from the testis have the characteristics of SLCs, and our study would shed new light on developing stem cell replacement therapy for testosterone deficiency.

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