WNT signalling in the normal human adult testis and in male germ cell neoplasms

Julia C. Young, Genevieve Kerr, Diana Micati, John E. Nielsen, Ewa Rajpert De Meyts, Helen E. Abud, Kate L. Loveland

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10 Citations (Scopus)


STUDY QUESTION: Is WNT signalling functional in normal and/or neoplastic human male germ cells? SUMMARY ANSWER: Regulated WNT signalling component synthesis in human testes indicates that WNT pathway function changes during normal spermatogenesis and is active in testicular germ cell tumours (TGCTs), and that WNT pathway blockade may restrict seminoma growth and migration. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Regulated WNT signalling governs many developmental processes, including those affecting male fertility during early germ cell development at embryonic and adult (spermatogonial) ages in mice. In addition, although many cancers arise from WNT signalling alterations, the functional relevance and WNT pathway components in TGCT, including germ cell neoplasia in situ (GCNIS), are unknown. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: The cellular distribution of transcripts and proteins in WNT signalling pathways was assessed in fixed human testis sections with normal spermatogenesis, GCNIS and seminoma (2-16 individuals per condition). Short-term (1-7 h) ligand activation and long-term (1-5 days) functional outcomes were examined using the well-characterised seminoma cell line, TCam-2. Pathway inhibition used siRNA or chemical exposures over 5 days to assess survival and migration. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: The cellular localisation of WNT signalling components was determined using in situ hybridisation and immunohistochemistry on Bouin's- and formalin-fixed human testis sections with complete spermatogenesis or germ cell neoplasia, and was also assessed in TCam-2 cells. Pathway function tests included exposure of TCam-2 cells to ligands, small molecules and siRNAs. Outcomes were measured by monitoring beta-catenin (CTNNB1) intracellular localisation, cell counting and gap closure measurements. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Detection of nuclear-localised beta-catenin (CTNNB1), and key WNT signalling components (including WNT3A, AXIN2, TCF7L1 and TCF7L2) indicate dynamic and cell-specific pathway activity in the adult human testis. Their presence in germ cell neoplasia and functional analyses in TCam-2 cells indicate roles for active canonical WNT signalling in TGCT relating to viability and migration. All data were analysed to determine statistical significance. LARGE SCALE DATA: No large-scale datasets were generated in this study. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: As TGCTs are rare and morphologically heterogeneous, functional studies in primary cancer cells were not performed. Functional analysis was performed with the only well-characterised, widely accepted seminoma-derived cell line. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This study demonstrated the potential sites and involvement of the WNT pathway in human spermatogenesis, revealing similarities with murine testis that suggest the potential for functional conservation during normal spermatogenesis. Evidence that inhibition of canonical WNT signalling leads to loss of viability and migratory activity in seminoma cells suggests that potential treatments using small molecule or siRNA inhibitors may be suitable for patients with metastatic TGCTs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1991-2003
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Axin2
  • Human spermatogenesis
  • TCFL1
  • TCFL2
  • Testicular germ cell tumour
  • WNT signalling

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