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Mai A Sarraj and Ann E Drummond

The development of a normal ovary during foetal life is essential for the production and ovulation of a high-quality oocyte in adult life. Early in embryogenesis, the primordial germ cells (PGCs) migrate to and colonise the genital ridges. Once the PGCs reach the bipotential gonad, the absence of the sex-determining region on the Y chromosome (SRY) gene and the presence of female-specific genes ensure that the indifferent gonad takes the female pathway and an ovary forms. PGCs enter into meiosis, transform into oogonia and ultimately give rise to oocytes that are later surrounded by granulosa cells to form primordial follicles. Various genes and signals are implicated in germ and somatic cell development, leading to successful follicle formation and normal ovarian development. This review focuses on the differentiation events, cellular processes and molecular mechanisms essential for foetal ovarian development in the mice and humans. A better understanding of these early cellular and morphological events will facilitate further study into the regulation of oocyte development, manifestation of ovarian disease and basis of female infertility.

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Davina A Cossigny, Jock K Findlay and Ann E Drummond

Numerous studies have reported on the roles of activins in gonadal regulation; however, little is known about their specific roles in early folliculogenesis. Ovarian follicular growth was investigated in 10-day cultures of day 4 postnatal whole ovaries treated with activin A (ActA; 50 ng/ml), with or without FSH (100 ng/ml) in vitro. We hypothesized that treatment with ActA±FSH would affect rates of growth and atresia in follicles. None of the treatments affected primordial follicle activation, and antral follicles were not observed after 10 days in culture. Primordial follicle numbers from all treatment groups were ∼20% of those in day 4 fresh ovaries, indicating that activation had occurred. In the presence of ActA, preantral follicle numbers increased significantly (P<0.0001). ActA alone decreased the proportion of atretic follicles in the primary and preantral classes, whereas the combined treatment of ActA+FSH increased the proportion of atretic preantral oocytes. Real-time PCR analysis revealed that follistatin, FSH receptor, and activin βA and βB subunits were all expressed at significantly higher levels in the ActA-only treated group but not in the ActA+FSH group. Here, we report novel findings supporting the role of FSH in primordial follicle survival through an action on apoptosis and a stimulatory role of ActA in the primordial to primary and preantral stages of follicle development, suggesting an inhibitory action of activin on oocyte apoptosis.

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A. E. Drummond, G. P. Risbridger, P. C. O'Leary and D. M. de Kretser

Summary. A single dose of EDS was given to mature male rats and interstitial fluid (IF) was collected to determine the potency of mitogenic and steroidogenic activities therein. The potency of the factor stimulating testosterone secretion in vitro by Percoll-purified Leydig cells was significantly elevated 2 weeks after EDS, whilst the potency of mitogenic activities (stimulation of DNA synthesis by BALB/c 3T3 cells) was not elevated until 4 weeks after EDS treatment.

This study suggests that two separate factors, one with mitogenic and the other steroidogenic activity, may be involved in the response of Leydig cells after EDS administration. The mitogenic factor may play a role in Leydig cell regeneration whereas the testosterone-stimulating factor may be involved in testicular testosterone homeostasis.

Keywords: mitogenesis; interstitial fluid; steroidogenesis; Leydig cell

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G. P. Risbridger, A. E. Drummond, J. B. Kerr and D. M. de Kretser

Summary. There was a significant (P < 0·05) and consistent increase in the potency of steroidogenic stimulatory activity (testosterone production by purified Leydig cells in vitro) in testicular interstitial fluid of the cryptorchid compared to the scrotal testis from 1 to 4 weeks after the induction of unilateral cryptorchidism. In contrast, the level of mitogenic activity ([3H]thymidine incorporation into 3T3 cells) was not significantly different between interstitial fluid from cryptorchid and scrotal testes for up to 4 weeks after surgery. These results indicate that the steroidogenic activity and the mitogenic activity are due to different, as yet unidentified, factors in testicular interstitial fluid.