Developmental expression of POU5F1 (OCT-3/4) in normal and dysgenetic human gonads

Ewa Rajpert-De Meyts, Regina Hanstein, Niels Jørgensen, Niels Græm, Peter H. Vogt, Niels E. Skakkebæk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Background: To investigate how long fetal germ cells retain pluripotency, which may be linked to their ability to transform into histologically variable tumours, we examined the expression of OCT-3/4 (POU5F1), a transcription factor essential for the maintenance of totipotency in embryonic stem cells. Methods: The ontogeny of expression of OCT-3/4 was studied in 74 specimens of normal human gonads during development and in 58 samples of gonads from cases with testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS), including disorders of sex differentiation and malignant changes. Results: OCT-3/4 expression was found in primordial germ cells during migration to the gonadal ridges and in the indifferent gonad. The expression in testes gradually decreased until ∼20 weeks of gestation, and there-after it was more rapidly down-regulated, but persisted in a few cells until 3-4 months of postnatal age, which co-incides with the final differentiation of gonocytes into infantile spermatogonia. Subsequently, OCT-3/4 was not detected in normal testes. In the ovaries, OCT-3/4 was expressed in primordial oogonia, but was down-regulated in oocytes that formed primary follicles. The pattern of expression was heterogeneous in dysgenetic and intersex cases, with OCT-3/4-positive gonocytes detected in this series until 14 months of age. Visibly neoplastic gonadoblastoma and carcinoma in situ (CIS) expressed abundant OCT-3/4 regardless of the age. Conclusions: In the human ovary, OCT-3/4 is silenced at the onset of the first meiotic prophase, whereas in the testis, down-regulation of OCT-3/4 is a gradual process associated with differentiation of gonocytes. This normal pattern of expression is disturbed in dysgenetic gonads, especially in rare intersex cases, thus increasing the risk of malignant transformation. The high abundance of OCT-3/4 in CIS cells is consistent with their early fetal origin and pluripotency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1338-1344
Number of pages7
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Germ cell differentiation
  • OCT-3
  • OCT-4
  • POU5F1
  • Testicular carcinoma in situ

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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