Ovarian Follicular Growth, Ovulation and Atresia

Endocrine, Paracrine and Autocrine Regulation
  • Kelle H. Moley
  • James R. Schreiber
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 377)


The human ovary at birth contains approximately two million primordial follicles (1). A primordial follicle consists of an oocyte arrested in prophase of meiosis I, a single layer of granulosa cells and a basement membrane, the basal lamina. Throughout life, from childhood to menopause, this pool is progressively diminished, as new cohorts of follicles daily are recruited from this large group to undergo follicular development (2). Follicular growth begins when the oocyte, which is still arrested in meiosis I, increases in size (3). The surrounding granulosa cells simultaneously undergo mitotic division. By the end of this preantral stage, four to five layers of granulosa cells surround the oocyte. Also during this stage, these follicles have developed another layer of a different cell type external to the basal lamina called the theca cell layer (3). A vascular wreath is formed within this thecal layer directly adjacent to the granulosa cell shell. The granulosa and theca cells undergo differentiation during this stage as they acquire FSH and LH receptors, respectively (4). Formation of the antrum, or fluid-filled cavity, at one pole of the follicle, signals transition to the antral follicle stage. The theca interna cells undergo final cytodifferentiation into active steroidogenic cells. The mean diameter of the follicle increases significantly during this time due to a combination of an accumulation of follicular fluid in the antrum as well as an increase in the granulosa cell number. By approximately day 5 to 7 of the follicular phase, a dominant follicle is easily recognized morphologically (5). This follicle, selected for ovulation, is the largest, contains the greatest number of granulosa cells, and has a thecal layer which is highly vascularized.


Granulosa Cell Corpus Luteum Primordial Follicle Theca Cell Follicular Growth 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelle H. Moley
    • 1
  • James R. Schreiber
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Reproductive Endocrinology, Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA

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