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Home > E. Pathology by systems > Reproductive system > Female genital system > Ovaries (Ovary) > oogenesis


Tuesday 5 April 2011


Definition: Oogenesis (or ovogenesis)is the creation of an ovum (egg cell). It is the female form of gametogenesis; the male equivalent is spermatogenesis. It involves the development of the various stages of the immature ovum.

After migration, primordial germ cells will become oogonia in the forming gonad (ovary). The oogonia proliferate extensively by mitotic divisions, up to 5-7 million cells in humans. But then many of these oogonia die and about 50,000 remain. These cells differentiate into primary oocytes.

In week 11-12 post coitus the first meiotic division begins (before birth for most mammals) and remains arrested in prophase I from a few days to many years depending on the species. It is in this period or in some cases at the beginning of sexual maturity that the primary oocytes secrete proteins to form a coat called zona pellucida and they also produce cortical granules containing enzymes and proteins needed for fertilization.

Meiosis stands by because of the follicular granulosa cells that send inhibitory signals through gap junctions and the zona pellucida. Sexual maturation is the beginning of periodic ovulation.

Ovulation is the regular release of one oocyte from the ovary into the reproductive tract and is preceded by follicular growth. A few follicle cells are stimulated to grow but only one oocyte is ovulated.

A primordial follicle consists of an epithelial layer of follicular granulosa cells enclosing an oocyte. The pituitary gland secrete follicle-stimulating hormones (FSHs) that stimulate follicular growth and oocyte maturation. The thecal cells around each follicle secrete estrogen. This hormone stimulates the production of FSH receptors on the follicular granulosa cells and has at the same time a negative feedback on FSH secretion. This results in a competition between the follicles and only the follicle with the most FSH receptors survives and is ovulated.

Meiotic division I

Meiotic division I goes on in the ovulated oocyte stimulated by luteinizing hormones (LHs) produced by the pituitary gland. FSH and LH block the gap junctions between follicle cells and the oocyte therefore inhibiting communication between them.

Most follicular granulosa cells stay around the oocyte and so form the cumulus layer. Large non-mammalian oocytes accumulate egg yolk, glycogen, lipids, ribosomes, and the mRNA needed for protein synthesis during early embryonic growth. These intensive RNA biosynthese are mirrored in the structure of the chromosomes, which decondense and form lateral loops giving them a lampbrush appearance.

Oocyte maturation is the following phase of oocyte development. It occurs at sexual maturity when hormones stimulate the oocyte to complete meiotic division I.

The meiotic division I produces 2 cells differing in size: a small polar body and a large secondary oocyte.

Meiotic division II

The secondary oocyte undergoes meiotic division II and that results in the formation of a second small polar body and a large mature egg, both being haploid cells. The polar bodies degenerate.

Oocyte maturation stands by at metaphase II in most vertebrates.

During ovulation, the arrested secondary oocyte leaves the ovary and matures rapidly into an egg ready for fertilization.

Fertilization will cause the egg to complete meiosis II. In human females there is proliferation of the oogonia in the fetus, meiosis starts then before birth and stands by at meiotic division I up to 50 years, ovulation begins at puberty.

A 10 - 20 μm large somatic cell generally needs 24 hours to double its mass for mitosis. By this way it would take a very long time for that cell to reach the size of a mammalian egg with a diameter of 100 μm (some insects have eggs of about 1,000 μm or greater). Eggs have therefore special mechanisms to grow to their large size.

One of these mechanisms is to have extra copies of genes: meiotic division I is paused so that the oocyte grows while it contains two diploid chromosome sets. Some species produce many extra copies of genes, such as amphibians, which may have up to 1 or 2 million copies. A complementary mechanism is partly dependent on syntheses of other cells.

In amphibians, birds, and insects, yolk is made by the liver (or its equivalent) and secreted into the blood. Neighboring accessory cells in the ovary can also provide nutritive help of two types. In some invertebrates some oogonia become nurse cells. These cells are connected by cytoplasmic bridges with oocytes. The nurse cells of insects provide oocytes macromolecules such as proteins and mRNA. Follicular granulosa cells are the second type of accessory cells in the ovary in both invertebrates and vertebrates. They form a layer around the oocyte and nourish them with small molecules, no macromolecules, but eventually their smaller precursor molecules, by gap junctions.

Development of oocytes in ovarian follicles - Oogenesis

In a larger perspective, the whole folliculogenesis from "primordial follicle" to "preovulatory follicle" is located in the stage of meiosis I of ootidogenesis in oogenesis.

The embryonic development doesn’t differ from the male one, but follows the common path before gametogenesis. Once gametogonia enter the gonadal ridge, however, they attempt to associate with these somatic cells. Development proceeds and the gametogonia turns into oogonia, which become fully surrounded by a layer of cells (pre-granulosa cells).

The Oogonia multiply by dividing mitotically; this proliferation ends when the oogonia enter meiosis. The amount of time that oogonia multiply by mitosis is not species specific. In the human fetus, cells undergoing mitosis are seen until the second and third trimester of pregnancy.[4][5] After beginning the meiotic process, the oogonia (now called primary oocytes) can no longer replicate. Therefore the total number of gametes is established at this time. Once the primary oocytes stop dividing the cells enter a prolonged ‘resting phase’. This ‘resting phase’ or dictyate stage can last anywhere up to fifty years in the human.

For several primary oocytes that undergoes meiosis, only one functional oocyte is produced. The other two or three cells produced are called polar bodies. Polar bodies have no function and eventually deteriorate.

The primary oocyte turns into a secondary oocyte in mature ovarian follicles. Unlike the sperm, the egg is arrested in the secondary stage of meiosis until fertilization.

Upon fertilization by sperm, the secondary oocyte continues the second part of meiosis and becomes a zygote.


- follicualr maturation arrest
- ovarian immaturity (HP:17018)

See also

- gametogenesis
- spermatogenesis