VASA is a specific marker for both normal and malignant human germ cells

Anne-Marie Zeeman, Hans Stoop, Marjan Boter, Ad J M Gillis, Diego H Castrillon, J Wolter Oosterhuis, Leendert H J Looijenga

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67 Citations (Scopus)


VASA is so far the only known gene in mammals whose expression is specific for the germ cell lineage. We investigated the presence of VASA mRNA and protein in a series of germ cell tumors of different histologic subtypes and anatomic location, as well as in nongerm cell tumors such as testicular lymphomas and Leydig cell tumors. We detected VASA mRNA (by quantitative RT-PCR) and protein (by immunohistochemical staining) in normal spermatogenesis, seminoma (both classic and spermatocytic), carcinoma in situ (the precursor of classic seminoma and nonseminoma), dysgerminoma, and gonadoblastoma. VASA immunostaining was relatively weak in seminomas and dysgerminomas compared with spermatocytic seminomas, despite similar mRNA levels, suggesting that VASA is regulated in part by post-transcriptional mechanisms. A higher staining intensity compared with the invasive counterparts was observed in the precursor lesions (ie, carcinoma in situ and gonadoblastoma). No VASA mRNA or protein was detectable in nonseminomatous germ cell tumors (such as embryonal carcinoma, teratoma, and yolk sac tumor) and derived cell lines, or nongerm cell tumors such as lymphoma or Leydig cell tumor. These results provide direct evidence that some germ cell tumors retain germ cell characteristics, whereas other tumors of germ cell origin result from differentiation and loss of germ cell identity. Furthermore, these findings suggest that VASA is likely to serve as a useful and highly specific biomarker for germ cell tumors, particularly classic and spermatocytic seminoma/dysgerminoma, including their precursor stages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-66
Number of pages8
JournalLaboratory investigation; a journal of technical methods and pathology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomarkers
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Germ Cells/metabolism
  • Germinoma/genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • RNA, Messenger/genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Testicular Neoplasms/genetics
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


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