Precise separation of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) from progenitor spermatogonia that lack stem cell activity and are committed to differentiation remains a challenge. To distinguish between these spermatogonial subtypes, we identified genes that exhibited bimodal mRNA levels at the single-cell level among undifferentiated spermatogonia from Postnatal Day 6 mouse testes, including Tspan8, Epha2, and Pvr, each of which encode cell surface proteins useful for cell selection. Transplantation studies provided definitive evidence that a TSPAN8-high subpopulation is enriched for SSCs. RNA-seq analyses identified genes differentially expressed between TSPAN8-high and -low subpopulations that clustered into multiple biological pathways potentially involved in SSC renewal or differentiation, respectively. Methyl-seq analysis identified hypomethylated domains in the promoters of these genes in both subpopulations that colocalized with peaks of histone modifications defined by ChIP-seq analysis. Taken together, these results demonstrate functional heterogeneity among mouse undifferentiated spermatogonia and point to key biological characteristics that distinguish SSCs from progenitor spermatogonia.
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Vol. 95 • No. 6