Isolation, characterisation and in vitro potential of Oogonial stem cells
Dunlop, Cheryl Elizabeth
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The longstanding belief that women are born with a finite ovarian reserve has been debated for over a decade, ever since the discovery, and subsequent isolation, of purported oogonial stem cells (OSCs) from adult mammalian ovaries. This rare cell population has now been reported in the mouse, rat, pig, rhesus macaque monkey and humans and, although a physiological role for the cells has not been proven, they do appear to generate oocytes when cultured in specific environments, resulting in live offspring in rodents. The primary aim of this thesis was to verify independently the existence of OSCs in human ovary and determine whether they could be isolated from a large animal model, the cow. The secondary aim was to investigate the cells’ in vitro potential, both to undergo neo-oogenesis and as a model for germ cell development. Putative bovine and human OSCs were isolated from disaggregated adult ovarian cortex using a previously validated fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS)-based technique, with cells sorted for externally expressed DDX4 (VASA). Freshly isolated and cultured cells were characterised by analysing their expression of pluripotency and germline markers, using RT-PCR, immunocytochemistry and Western blotting. The in vitro neo-oogenesis potential of the cells was explored by injecting fluorescently labelled cells into fragments of adult ovarian cortex and by forming aggregated artificial “ovaries” with putative OSCs and fetal ovarian somatic cells. Germ cell model experiments comprised treatment of cultured cells with BMP4 and/or retinoic acid (RA), with subsequent quantitative RT-PCR and immunocytochemistry analysis for downstream BMP4- and RA-response genes, and liposomal-mediated transfection of cells with a DAZL overexpression plasmid to assess their meiosis-related gene response. Scarce populations of putative OSCs were retrieved from 5 human samples (aged 13- 40 years) and 6 bovine samples. The cells were cultured long-term for up to 7 months and demonstrated consistent expression of several pluripotency-associated and germline markers at the mRNA and protein level, including LIN28, NANOG, POU5F1 (OCT4), IFITM3 (fragilis), STELLA, PRDM1 (BLIMP1), and C-KIT, indicating their early germline nature. Investigation of neo-oogenesis potential revealed that putative human OSCs were associated rarely with fetal somatic cells in primordial follicle-like structures, but could not be confirmed to have undergone oogenesis. However, like early germ cells, putative bovine and human OSCs were BMP4 and RA responsive, with both species demonstrating significant upregulation of expression of ID1 and bovine cells exhibiting a significant increase in MSX1, MSX2 and the meiotic marker SYCP3 in response to BMP4 and/or RA treatment. Cells could be successfully transfected to overexpress DAZL; however, no significant downstream gene expression changes were observed. This is the first report of putative bovine OSC isolation and corroborates a previous report showing putative human OSC isolation. Although the expression of both stem cell and germline markers indicates the cells have characteristics of OSCs, their capacity to enter meiosis and form functional oocytes has yet to be determined. Putative bovine OSCs, however, show promise as a novel model for investigating germ cell development. If their potential can be harnessed, then OSCs may have a role in clinical applications, for example in fertility preservation, in the future. Future experiments will examine the neo-oogenesis capabilities of the cells further and explore novel cell delivery systems for clinical use.