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Analysis of multi-lineage gene expression dynamics during primordial germ cell induction from human induced pluripotent stem cells.
ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:In mammals, specification of primordial germ cells (PGCs) is established in the early post-implantation embryo. The bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-SMAD and WNT3-?-catenin signaling initiate the gene regulatory network for PGC specification. The activation of SOX17-BLIMP1 axis is critical for human PGC program. Moreover, EpCAM and INTEGRIN?6 were identified as surface markers of human PGC-like cells (PGCLCs) recently. However, the signaling mechanism for PGC specification in non-rodent mammals remains to be clarified. METHODS:We differentiated human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) into PGCLCs in vitro in response to Activin A and BMP4. The percentage of EpCAM/INTEGRIN?6 double-positive cells (PGCLCs) was analyzed by flow cytometry. The expression of PGC genes was evaluated by qRT-PCR and immunofluorescence. The expression dynamic of multi-lineage genes during the differentiation process was evaluated by qRT-PCR. RESULTS:Under the stimulation for PGCLC induction, the embryoids derived from hiPSCs initiated significant upregulation of the early PGC genes (BLIMP1, TFAP2C, and NANOS3), but maintained low or no levels of DPPA3 and late PGC genes (DAZL and DDX4). The percentage of EpCAM/INTEGRIN?6 double-positive PGCLCs reached the highest at day 6 of induction. After pre-induction, the incipient mesoderm-like cells (iMeLCs) upregulated most of the mesoderm genes (EOMES, T, MSXI, RUNX2, and MIXL1). The differentiating embryoids showed high levels of key pluripotency genes, OCT4 and NANOG, but became negative for SOX2. In contrast to iMeLCs, the differentiating embryoids downregulated mesoderm genes RUNX2 and EOMES, and ectoderm gene PAX6, but increased the expression of endoderm gene SOX17. CONCLUSIONS:During PGCLC induction process in vitro, the differentiating embryoids not only activated the PGC-related genes, but also displayed complex regulation of pluripotency genes and multi-lineage genes. These results would be meaningful for future research investigating the regulation of human early germ line development.
Project description:At present, the etiology of most non-obstructive azoospermia (NOA) remains unclear. In vitro generation of patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) is an effective approach for exploring the mechanisms of human disease. Here, we established iPSCs from two patients with idiopathic NOA and differentiated them into primordial germ cell-like cells (PGCLCs) in vitro. Compared with iPSCs derived from normal fertile men, the NOA patient-specific iPSCs show decreased efficiency of PGCLC formation in vitro. Particularly, the embryoids derived from NOA patient-specific iPSCs show defects in the expression of early primordial germ cell (PGC) genes. The transcriptome analysis reveals the expression patterns of key human PGC genes are generally similar in PGCLCs differentiated from all iPSC lines, and the differentially expressed genes were enriched with gene ontology (GO) of cell cycle and apoptosis regulation. Moreover, the PGCLCs derived from NOA patient-specific iPSCs might have initiated epigenetic reprogramming at a very early stage. Thus, the NOA patient-specific iPSCs exhibit poor response to germ cell induction in vitro, which may be related to the regulation of apoptotic process. These findings provide a foundation for future research on mechanism of male infertility.
Project description:Primordial germ cells (PGCs) develop only into sperm and oocytes in vivo. The molecular mechanisms underlying human PGC specification are poorly understood due to inaccessibility of cell materials and lack of in vitro models for tracking the earliest stages of germ cell development. Here, we describe a defined and stepwise differentiation system for inducing pre-migratory PGC-like cells (PGCLCs) from human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). In response to cytokines, PSCs differentiate first into a heterogeneous mesoderm-like cell population and then into PGCLCs, which exhibit minimal PRDM14 expression. PGC specification in humans is similar to the murine process, with the sequential activation of mesodermal and PGC genes, and the suppression of neural induction and of de novo DNA methylation, suggesting that human PGC formation is induced via epigenesis, the process of germ cell specification via inductive signals from surrounding somatic cells. This study demonstrates that PGC commitment in humans shares key features with that of the mouse, but also highlights key differences, including transcriptional regulation during the early stage of human PGC development (3-6 weeks). A more comprehensive understanding of human germ cell development may lead to methodology for successfully generating PSC-derived gametes for reproductive medicine.
Project description:The embryonic stem cell cycle (ESCC) and let-7 families of miRNAs function antagonistically in the switch between mouse embryonic stem cell self-renewal and somatic differentiation. Here, we report that the human ESCC miRNA miR-372 and let-7 act antagonistically in germline differentiation from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). hESC and iPSC-derived primordial germ cell-like cells (PGCLCs) expressed high levels of miR-372 and conversely, somatic cells expressed high levels of let-7. Manipulation of miRNA levels by introduction of miRNA mimics or knockdown with miRNA sponges demonstrated that miR-372 promotes whereas let-7 antagonizes PGCLC differentiation. Knockdown of the individual miR-372 targets SMARCC1, MECP2, CDKN1, RBL2, RHOC, and TGFBR2 increased PGCLC production, whereas knockdown of the let-7 targets CMYC and NMYC suppressed PGCLC differentiation. These findings uncover a miR-372/let-7 axis regulating human primordial germ cell (PGC) specification. Stem Cells 2016;34:1985-1991.
Project description:The expansion of primordial germ cells (PGCs), the precursors for the oocytes and spermatozoa, is a key challenge in reproductive biology/medicine. Using a chemical screening exploiting PGC-like cells (PGCLCs) induced from mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs), we here identify key signaling pathways critical for PGCLC proliferation. We show that the combinatorial application of Forskolin and Rolipram, which stimulate cAMP signaling via different mechanisms, expands PGCLCs up to ~50-fold in culture. The expanded PGCLCs maintain robust capacity for spermatogenesis, rescuing the fertility of infertile mice. Strikingly, during expansion, PGCLCs comprehensively erase their DNA methylome, including parental imprints, in a manner that precisely recapitulates genome-wide DNA demethylation in gonadal germ cells, while essentially maintaining their identity as sexually uncommitted PGCs, apparently through appropriate histone modifications. By establishing a paradigm for PGCLC expansion, our system reconstitutes the epigenetic "blank slate" of the germ line, an immediate precursory state for sexually dimorphic differentiation.
Project description:Nanog, a core pluripotency factor in the inner cell mass of blastocysts, is also expressed in unipotent primordial germ cells (PGCs) in mice, where its precise role is yet unclear. We investigated this in an in vitro model, in which naive pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells cultured in basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and activin A develop as epiblast-like cells (EpiLCs) and gain competence for a PGC-like fate. Consequently, bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP4), or ectopic expression of key germline transcription factors Prdm1, Prdm14 and Tfap2c, directly induce PGC-like cells (PGCLCs) in EpiLCs, but not in ES cells. Here we report an unexpected discovery that Nanog alone can induce PGCLCs in EpiLCs, independently of BMP4. We propose that after the dissolution of the naive ES-cell pluripotency network during establishment of EpiLCs, the epigenome is reset for cell fate determination. Indeed, we found genome-wide changes in NANOG-binding patterns between ES cells and EpiLCs, indicating epigenetic resetting of regulatory elements. Accordingly, we show that NANOG can bind and activate enhancers of Prdm1 and Prdm14 in EpiLCs in vitro; BLIMP1 (encoded by Prdm1) then directly induces Tfap2c. Furthermore, while SOX2 and NANOG promote the pluripotent state in ES cells, they show contrasting roles in EpiLCs, as Sox2 specifically represses PGCLC induction by Nanog. This study demonstrates a broadly applicable mechanistic principle for how cells acquire competence for cell fate determination, resulting in the context-dependent roles of key transcription factors during development.
Project description:The transcription factors (TFs) Nanog and Esrrb play important roles in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and during primordial germ-cell (PGC) development. Esrrb is a positively regulated direct target of NANOG in ESCs that can substitute qualitatively for Nanog function in ESCs. Whether this functional substitution extends to the germline is unknown. Here, we show that germline deletion of Nanog reduces PGC numbers 5-fold at midgestation. Despite this quantitative depletion, Nanog-null PGCs can complete germline development in contrast to previous findings. PGC-like cell (PGCLC) differentiation of Nanog-null ESCs is also impaired, with Nanog-null PGCLCs showing decreased proliferation and increased apoptosis. However, induced expression of Esrrb restores PGCLC numbers as efficiently as Nanog. These effects are recapitulated in vivo: knockin of Esrrb to Nanog restores PGC numbers to wild-type levels and results in fertile adult mice. These findings demonstrate that Esrrb can replace Nanog function in germ cells.
Project description:Primordial germ cells (PGCs) sequentially induce specific genes required for their development. We focused on epigenetic changes that regulate PGC-specific gene expression. mil-1, Blimp1, and Stella are preferentially expressed in PGCs, and their expression is upregulated during PGC differentiation. Here, we first determined DNA methylation status of mil-1, Blimp1, and Stella regulatory regions in epiblast and in PGCs, and found that they were hypomethylated in differentiating PGCs after E9.0, in which those genes were highly expressed. We used siRNA to inhibit a maintenance DNA methyltransferase, Dnmt1, in embryonic stem (ES) cells and found that the flanking regions of all three genes became hypomethylated and that expression of each gene increased 1.5- to 3-fold. In addition, we also found 1.5- to 5-fold increase of the PGC genes in the PGCLCs (PGC-like cells) induced form ES cells by knockdown of Dnmt1. We also obtained evidence showing that methylation of the regulatory region of mil-1 resulted in 2.5-fold decrease in expression in a reporter assay. Together, these results suggested that DNA demethylation does not play a major role on initial activation of the PGC genes in the nascent PGCs but contributed to enhancement of their expression in PGCs after E9.0. However, we also found that repression of representative somatic genes, Hoxa1 and Hoxb1, and a tissue-specific gene, Gfap, in PGCs was not dependent on DNA methylation; their flanking regions were hypomethylated, but their expression was not observed in PGCs at E13.5. Their promoter regions showed the bivalent histone modification in PGCs, that may be involved in repression of their expression. Our results indicated that epigenetic status of PGC genes and of somatic genes in PGCs were distinct, and suggested contribution of epigenetic mechanisms in regulation of the expression of a specific gene set in PGCs.
Project description:Our current knowledge of the mechanisms leading to human primordial germ cell (PGC) specification stems solely from differentiation experiments starting from human pluripotent stem cells. However, information regarding the origin of PGCs in vivo remains obscure. Here we apply an improved system for extended in vitro culture of human embryos to investigate the presence of PGC-like cells (PGCLCs) 12 days post fertilization (dpf). Good quality blastocysts (n = 141) were plated at 6 dpf and maintained in hypoxia, in medium supplemented with Activin A until 12 dpf. We primarily reveal that 12 dpf outgrowths recapitulate human peri-implantation events and demonstrate that blastocyst quality significantly impacts both embryo viability at 12 dpf, as well as the presence of POU5F1+ cells within viable outgrowths. Moreover, detailed examination of 12 dpf blastocyst outgrowths revealed a population of POU5F1+, SOX2- and SOX17+ cells that may correspond to PGCLCs, alongside POU5F1+ epiblast-like cells and GATA6+ endoderm-like cells. Our findings suggest that, in human, PGC precursors may become specified within the epiblast and migrate either transiently to the extra-embryonic mesoderm or directly to the dorsal part of the yolk sac endoderm around 12 dpf. This is a descriptive analysis and as such the conclusion that POU5F1+ and SOX17+ cells represent bona fide PGCs can only be considered as preliminary. In the future, other PGC markers may be used to further validate the observed cell populations. Overall, our findings provide insights into the origin of the human germline and may serve as a foundation to further unravel the molecular mechanisms governing PGC specification in human.
Project description:Early mammalian development entails transit through naive pluripotency towards post-implantation epiblast, which subsequently gives rise to primordial germ cells (PGC), the founding germline population. To investigate these cell fate transitions, we developed a compound-reporter to track cellular identity in a model of PGC specification (PGC-like cells; PGCLC), and coupled it with genome-wide CRISPR screening. We identify key genes both for exit from pluripotency and for acquisition of PGC fate, and characterise a central role for the transcription regulators Nr5a2 and Zfp296 in germline ontogeny. Abrogation of these genes results in widespread activation (Nr5a2-/-) or inhibition (Zfp296-/-) of WNT pathway factors in PGCLC. This leads to aberrant upregulation of the somatic programme or failure to activate germline genes, respectively, and consequently loss of germ cell identity. Our study places Zfp296 and Nr5a2 as key components of an expanded PGC gene regulatory network, and outlines a transferable strategy for identifying critical regulators of complex cell fate decisions.
Project description:Mechanisms underlying human germ cell development are unclear, partly due to difficulties in studying human embryos and lack of suitable experimental systems. Here, we show that human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) differentiate into incipient mesoderm-like cells (iMeLCs), which robustly generate human primordial germ cell-like cells (hPGCLCs) that can be purified using the surface markers EpCAM and INTEGRINα6. The transcriptomes of hPGCLCs and primordial germ cells (PGCs) isolated from non-human primates are similar, and although specification of hPGCLCs and mouse PGCs rely on similar signaling pathways, hPGCLC specification transcriptionally activates germline fate without transiently inducing eminent somatic programs. This includes genes important for naive pluripotency and repression of key epigenetic modifiers, concomitant with epigenetic reprogramming. Accordingly, BLIMP1, which represses somatic programs in mice, activates and stabilizes a germline transcriptional circuit and represses a default neuronal differentiation program. Together, these findings provide a foundation for understanding and reconstituting human germ cell development in vitro. Overall design: RNAseq analysis of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC), incipient mesoderm-like cells (iMeLC) and primordial germ cell-like cells (BLIMP1-2A-tdTomato (BT)/TFAP2C-2A-ECFP (AG) expressing cells or EpCAM/CD49f (CSM) positive cells) RNAseq analysis of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESC), epiblast-like cells (EpiLC) and primordial germ cell-like cells (PGCLC; Blimp1-mVenus (BV) or BV/stella-eCFP (SC) positive cells) Single cell RNAseq analysis of cynomolgus ESCs and gonadal PGCs