Scientists at the University of Utah have investigated the complex development of stem cells that give rise to human sperm. The findings have implications for the treatment of male infertility and cancer therapy.
New Research on Human Sperm Stem Cells
Previously, studies on sperm stem cell development have been limited to animal models (mice). The research team at the Huntsman Cancer Institute of the University of Utah is the first to study the processes involved in the maturation of human sperm. The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, has revealed that the process is far more complicated in humans than previously believed. The multi-stage development of human sperm was studied with the help of genome analysis tools. The new insights into the normal functioning of sperm stem cells provide a framework for understanding what occurs in men with infertility or cancer.
Human Sperm Development
The research team in Utah studied the genes that switch on and off during normal sperm maturation. The gene profile of human sperm stem cells was examined with single-cell RNA sequence analysis of individual cells. The scientists found that sperm stem cells go through four distinct stages of maturation, beginning with the quiescent phase, followed by a proliferation phase, and finally a differentiation phase when the stem cells are transformed into mature sperm. The research team specifically looked at the signaling, transcription, and cell regulation factors that influence these stages.
Stem Cell Treatment for Male Infertility
Co-author of the study, Dr. James Hotaling, a urologist at the University of Utah Health, states he works with many men who are infertile and has seen first-hand the devastating effects of this diagnosis. The study was designed to better understand the normal maturation of human sperm stem cells with the hope that this would help us understand what leads to infertility, he explains.
Cancer Treatment and Stem Cells
The study also has implications for our understanding of cancer development. Infertile men are at higher risk of certain cancers of the male reproductive system, such as prostate and testicular cancer. By understanding the normal functioning of sperm stem cells, the scientists hope to better understand what causes sperm stem cells to transform into cancerous cells. Ultimately, the study authors want to develop better diagnosis and treatment of male infertility and uncover the complex genetic changes involved in cancer development.