Gonocytes are primitive germ cells that reside in the seminiferous tubules of neonatal testes and give rise to spermatogonia, thereby initiating spermatogenesis. Due to a lack of specific markers, the isolation and culture of these cells has proven to be difficult in the pig. In the present study, we show that a lectin, Dolichos biflorus agglutinin (DBA), which has specific affinity for primordial germ cells (PCGs) in the genital ridge, binds specifically to gonocytes in neonatal pig testes. The specific affinity of DBA for germ cells was progressively lost with age. This suggests that DBA binds strongly to primitive germ cells, such as gonocytes, weakly to primitive spermatogonia, and not at all to spermatogonia. The presence of alkaline phosphatase (AP) activity in the germ cells of neonatal pig testis confirmed the existence of primitive germ cells. Gonocytes from neonatal pig testis were purified, and a cell population that consisted of approximately 70% gonocytes was obtained, as indicated by the DBA binding assay. Purified gonocytes were cultured in DMEM/F12 supplemented with 10% FBS in the absence of any specific growth factors for 7 days. The cells remained viable and proliferated actively in culture. Initially, the gonocytes grew as focal colonies that transformed to three-dimensional colonies by 7 days of culture. Cultured germ cells expressed SSEA-1, a marker for embryonic stem (ES) cells, and were negative for the expression of somatic cell markers. These results should help to establish a male germ cell line that could be used for studying spermatogenesis in vitro and for genetic modification of pigs.
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Vol. 77 • No. 1