Germline Stem Cell Activity Is Sustained by SALL4-Dependent Silencing of Distinct Tumor Suppressor Genes

Ai Leen Chan, Hue M. La, Julien M.D. Legrand, Juho Antti Mäkelä, Michael Eichenlaub, Mia De Seram, Mirana Ramialison, Robin M. Hobbs

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Sustained spermatogenesis in adult males and fertility recovery following germ cell depletion are dependent on undifferentiated spermatogonia. We previously demonstrated a key role for the transcription factor SALL4 in spermatogonial differentiation. However, whether SALL4 has broader roles within spermatogonia remains unclear despite its ability to co-regulate genes with PLZF, a transcription factor required for undifferentiated cell maintenance. Through development of inducible knockout models, we show that short-term integrity of differentiating but not undifferentiated populations requires SALL4. However, SALL4 loss was associated with long-term functional decline of undifferentiated spermatogonia and disrupted stem cell-driven regeneration. Mechanistically, SALL4 associated with the NuRD co-repressor and repressed expression of the tumor suppressor genes Foxl1 and Dusp4. Aberrant Foxl1 activation inhibited undifferentiated cell growth and survival, while DUSP4 suppressed self-renewal pathways. We therefore uncover an essential role for SALL4 in maintenance of undifferentiated spermatogonial activity and identify regulatory pathways critical for germline stem cell function. In this article, Hobbs and colleagues characterize a critical role for the transcription factor SALL4 in maintenance of undifferentiated spermatogonia in the testis. While undifferentiated cells initially tolerated acute Sall4 deletion, they were progressively depleted over time. SALL4 regulated undifferentiated cell function by repressing Dusp4 and Foxl1, which suppressed cell proliferation and survival and blocked self-renewal signals when aberrantly expressed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)956-971
Number of pages16
JournalStem Cell Reports
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2017


  • Germline stem cells
  • SALL4
  • Self-renewal
  • Spermatogonia
  • Transcription factors
  • Tumor suppressor genes

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