Revealing cellular and molecular transitions in neonatal germ cell differentiation using single cell RNA sequencing

Jinyue Liao, Shuk Han Ng, Alfred Chun Luk, Hoi Ching Suen, Yan Qian, Annie Wing Tung Lee, Jiajie Tu, Jacqueline Chak Lam Fung, Nelson Leung Sang Tang, Bo Feng, Wai Yee Chan, Pierre Fouchet, Robin M. Hobbs, Tin Lap Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Neonatal germ cell development provides the foundation of spermatogenesis. However, a systematic understanding of this process is still limited. To resolve cellular and molecular heterogeneity in this process, we profiled single cell transcriptomes of undifferentiated germ cells from neonatal mouse testes and employed unbiased clustering and pseudotime ordering analysis to assign cells to distinct cell states in the developmental continuum. We defined the unique transcriptional programs underlying migratory capacity, resting cellular states and apoptosis regulation in transitional gonocytes. We also identified a subpopulation of primitive spermatogonia marked by CD87 (plasminogen activator, urokinase receptor), which exhibited a higher level of self-renewal gene expression and migration potential. We further revealed a differentiation-primed state within the undifferentiated compartment, in which elevated Oct4 expression correlates with lower expression of self-renewal pathway factors, higher Rarg expression, and enhanced retinoic acid responsiveness. Lastly, a knockdown experiment revealed the role of Oct4 in the regulation of gene expression related to the MAPK pathway and cell adhesion, which may contribute to stem cell differentiation. Our study thus provides novel insights into cellular and molecular regulation during early germ cell development.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdev174953
Number of pages15
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2019


  • Differentiation
  • Gonocytes
  • Single cell
  • Spermatogonia
  • Transcriptomes

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