Adult stem cells modulate their output by varying between symmetric and asymmetric divisions, but have rarely been observed in living intact tissues. Germline stem cells (GSCs) in the Drosophila testis are anchored to somatic hub cells and were thought to exclusively undergo oriented asymmetric divisions, producing one stem cell that remains hub-anchored and one daughter cell displaced out of the stem cell-maintaining micro-environment (niche). We developed extended live imaging of the Drosophila testis niche, allowing us to track individual germline cells. Surprisingly, new wild-type GSCs are generated in the niche during steady-state tissue maintenance by a previously undetected event we term 'symmetric renewal', where interconnected GSC-daughter cell pairs swivel such that both cells contact the hub. We also captured GSCs undergoing direct differentiation by detaching from the hub. Following starvation-induced GSC loss, GSC numbers are restored by symmetric renewals. Furthermore, upon more severe (genetically induced) GSC loss, both symmetric renewal and de-differentiation (where interconnected spermatogonia fragment into pairs while moving towards then establishing contact with the hub) occur simultaneously to replenish the GSC pool. Thus, stereotypically oriented stem cell divisions are not always correlated with an asymmetric outcome in cell fate, and changes in stem cell output are governed by altered signals in response to tissue requirements.
- Accepted May 31, 2011.