Int. J. Dev. Biol. 57: 211 - 219 (2013)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.130028pk
© UPV/EHU Press

Nodal/Cripto signaling in fetal male germ cell development: implications for testicular germ cell tumors

Cassy M. Spiller, Josephine Bowles and Peter Koopman*

Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

ABSTRACT Testicular cancer is the most frequent cancer in young men aged 15-40 years and accounts for 1% of all cancer diagnosed in males. Testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT) encompass a broad group of cancers, each displaying different levels of pluripotency and differentiation as well as malignancy potential. The TGCT cell of origin is thought to be a fetal germ cell that failed to correctly differentiate during development: this is known as the ‘fetal origins hypothesis’. This theory predicts that developmental pathways that control germ cell pluripotency or differentiation may be involved in the malignant transformation of these cells. Recently the Nodal/Cripto signaling pathway, known to control pluripotency and differentiation in embryonic stem (ES) cells, was implicated in regulating normal male fetal germ cell pluripotency. Although genes of this pathway are not normally expressed in germ cells during adult life, ectopic expression of this pathway was detected in several sub-groups of TGCTs. In this review, we consider the evidence for the fetal origins of TGCT and discuss the implications of Nodal/Cripto signaling in various aspects of germ cell development and cancer progression.


germ cell, nodal, cripto, testicular germ cell tumor

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