Origin of pluripotent germ cell tumours: the role of microenvironment during embryonic development

77 Citations (Scopus)


Carcinoma in situ (CIS) testis, known also as intratubular germ cell neoplasia, is the cancer stem cell from which the great majority of testicular germ cell derived tumours (TGCTs) of the testis arise. TGCTs can proliferate into morphologically homogeneous seminomas or can differentiate into virtually any type of tissue and form teratomas (non-seminomas). CIS cells display a close phenotypic similarity to fetal germ cells (primordial germ cells or gonocytes) suggesting an origin due to a developmental delay or arrest of differentiation of early germ cells. The pluripotency of these neoplasms has recently been explained by a close resemblance of their expression profile to that of embryonic inner cell mass cells studied in culture as embryonic stem cells, with high expression of transcription factors associated with pluripotency, such as NANOG and OCT3/4, as well as proteins found in several tissue specific stem cells, such as TFAP2C (AP-2gamma) or KIT. CIS and seminomas highly express a number of pre-meiotic germ cell specific genes, which are down-regulated during development to non-seminomas, while the expression of other embryonic markers, such as SOX2, is up-regulated. The mechanistic pathways and causative factors remain to be elucidated of both the initial transformation of fetal germ cells into CIS cells and the progression of CIS cells into an invasive tumour in the young adult. However, evidence supported by epidemiological studies indicate that disturbances in the hormonal microenvironment of the differentiating gonads may results in both the neoplasia and a host of other problems later in life, such as genital malformations, decreased spermatogenesis, and signs of hypogonadism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular and Cellular Endocrinology
Issue number1-2
Pages (from-to)111-8
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2008


  • Animals
  • Biological Markers
  • Carcinoma in Situ
  • Embryonal Carcinoma Stem Cells
  • Embryonic Development
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells


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