Journal Article

Cancer/testis (CT) antigens, carcinogenesis and spermatogenesis

During spermatogenesis, spermatogonial stem cells, undifferentiated and differentiated spermatogonia, spermatocytes, spermatids and spermatozoa all express specific antigens, many of which transiently, yet the functions of many of these antigens remain unexplored. Studies in the past three decades have shown that many of these transiently expressed genes in developing germ cells during spermatogenesis are proto-oncogenes and oncogenes, which are expressed only in the testis and various types of cancers in both humans and rodents. As such, these antigens are designated cancer/testis antigens (CT antigens). Since the early 1980s, about 70 families of CT antigens have been identified with over 140 members are known to date. Due to their restricted expression in the testis and in various tumors in humans, they have been used as the target of immunotherapy, and multiple clinical trials at different phases are being conducted with some promising results. Interestingly, in a significant number of cancer patients, antibodies against some of these CT antigens were detected in their sera. However, antibodies against these CT antigens in humans under normal physiological conditions have yet to be reported even though many of these antigens are residing outside of the blood-testis barrier (BTB), such as in the basal compartment of the seminiferous epithelium and in the stem cell niche in the testis. In this review, we summarize latest findings in the field regarding several selected CT antigens which may be intimately related to spermatogenesis due to their unusual restricted expression during different discrete events of spermatogenesis, such as cell cycle progression, meiosis, and spermiogenesis. This information should be helpful to investigators in the field to study the roles of these oncogenes in spermatogenesis.