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M Myers, K L Britt, N G M Wreford, F J P Ebling and J B Kerr

Accurate estimation of the number of ovarian follicles at various stages of development is an important indicator of the process of folliculogenesis in relation to the endocrine signals and paracrine/autocrine mechanisms that control the growth and maturation of the oocytes and their supporting follicular cells. There are 10-fold or greater differences in follicular numbers per ovary at similar ages and/or strains reported in earlier studies using various methods, leading to difficulties with interpretation of ovarian function in control vs experimental conditions. This study describes unbiased, assumption-free stereological methods for quantification of early and growing follicular numbers in the mouse ovary. A fractionator approach was used to sample a defined fraction of histological sections of adult wild-type ovaries. Primordial and primary follicles were counted independently with the optical and physical disector methods. The fractionator/disector methods, which are independent of follicular size or shape, gave estimations of 1930 ± 286 (S.E.M.) and 2227 ± 101 primordial follicles, and 137 ± 25 and 265 ± 32 primary follicles per ovary at 70 and 100 days of age respectively. From exact counts on serial sections, secondary and later follicular numbers at 100 days of age were estimated at 135 per ovary. Remnants of zona pellucidae (a marker of previous follicular atresia) were estimated using a fractionator/physical disector approach and were approximately 500 per ovary. The application of the quantitative methods described will facilitate an improved understanding of follicular dynamics and the factors that mediate their growth and maturation and allow for a better comparison between different studies.

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Sander van den Driesche, Victoria M Smith, Michelle Myers and W Colin Duncan

The molecular mechanisms underlying the control of corpus luteum lifespan in women are not fully understood. Oestradiol has various luteolytic, or luteotrophic, functions in some species, and as it is synthesised within the human corpus luteum, it is an excellent candidate molecule to be a paracrine regulator of luteal function. This study aimed to comprehensively investigate the expression, regulation and effects of oestrogen receptors (ER) in human luteal cells. Genomic oestrogen receptors ERα, ERβ1 and ERβ2 were immunolocalised in human corpora lutea from throughout the luteal phase. mRNA expression was investigated throughout the luteal phase and after luteal rescue with exogenous human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). The regulation of ER expression and oestradiol action was investigated in cultures of luteinised granulosa cells. ER subtypes ERβ1 and ERβ2 were localised throughout the luteal phase to steroidogenic cells in the human corpus luteum and cells of the surrounding stroma. Unlike follicular granulosa cells, steroidogenic cells in the corpus luteum showed minimal ERα immunostaining. The presence of endothelial cells in the granulosa cell layer with ERβ1 and ERβ2 positive nuclei was noted. ERβ1 and ERβ2 were differentially regulated across the luteal phase with ERβ1 maximally expressed in the mid-luteal phase, while ERβ2 expression was maximal in the early luteal phase. In vivo and in vitro, hCG had no long-term effect on ER expression, although in vitro hCG and oestradiol acutely down-regulated ERs. Treatment with oestradiol in vitro down-regulated 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 and inhibin βA subunit confirming a functional oestradiol response. These data highlight functional and differentially regulated oestradiol reception in human luteal cells.

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J B Kerr, R Duckett, M Myers, K L Britt, T Mladenovska and J K Findlay

Proliferation and partial meiotic maturation of germ cells in fetal ovaries is believed to establish a finite, non-renewable pool of primordial follicles at birth. The supply of primordial follicles in postnatal life should be depleted during folliculogenesis, either undergoing atresia or surviving to ovulation. Recent studies of mouse ovaries propose that intra- and extraovarian germline stem cells replenish oocytes and form new primordial follicles. We quantified all healthy follicles in C57BL/6 mouse ovaries from day 1 to 200 using unbiased stereological methods, immunolabelling of oocyte meiosis (germ cell nuclear antigen (GCNA)) and ovarian cell proliferation (proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA)) and electronmicroscopy. Day 1 ovaries contained 7924±1564 (s.e.m.) oocytes or primordial follicles, declining on day 7 to 1987±203, with 200–800 oocytes ejected from individual ovaries on that day and day 12. Discarded oocytes and those subjacent to the surface epithelium were GCNA-positive indicating their incomplete meiotic maturation. From day 7 to 100 mean numbers of primordial follicles per ovary were not significantly depleted but declined at 200 days to 254±71. Mean numbers of all healthy follicles per ovary were not significantly different from day 7 to 100 (range 2332±349–3007±322). Primordial follicle oocytes were PCNA-negative. Occasional unidentified cells were PCNA-positive with mitotic figures observed in the cortex of day 1 and 12 ovaries. Although we found no evidence for ovarian germline stem cells, our data support the hypothesis of postnatal follicle renewal in postnatal and adult ovaries of C57BL/6 mice.

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Jia Hao, Wang Yao, W B Ryan Harris, Joy Y Vink, Kristin M Myers and Eve Donnelly

The cervix shortens and softens as its collagen microstructure remodels in preparation for birth. Altered cervical tissue collagen microstructure can contribute to a mechanically weak cervix and premature cervical dilation and delivery. To investigate the local microstructural changes associated with anatomic location and pregnancy, we used second-harmonic generation microscopy to quantify the orientation and spatial distribution of collagen throughout cervical tissue from 4 pregnant and 14 non-pregnant women. Across patients, the alignment and concentration of collagen within the cervix was more variable near the internal os and less variable near the external os. Across anatomic locations, the spatial distribution of collagen within a radial zone adjacent to the inner canal of the cervix was more homogeneous than that of a region comprising the middle and outer radial zones. Two regions with different collagen distribution characteristics were found. The anterior and posterior sections in the outer radial zone were characterized by greater spatial heterogeneity of collagen than that of the rest of the sections. Our findings suggest that the microstructural alignment and distribution of collagen varies with anatomic location within the human cervix. These observed differences in collagen microstructural alignment may reflect local anatomic differences in cervical mechanical loading and function. Our study deepens the understanding of specific microstructural cervical changes in pregnancy and informs investigations of potential mechanisms for normal and premature cervical remodeling.

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J B Kerr, L Brogan, M Myers, K J Hutt, T Mladenovska, S Ricardo, K Hamza, C L Scott, A Strasser and J K Findlay

Reports indicate that germ-line stem cells present in adult mice can rapidly generate new oocytes and contribute to the primordial follicle reserve following conditions of ovotoxic stress. We further investigated the hypothesis that adult mice have the capacity to generate new oocytes by monitoring primordial follicle numbers throughout postnatal life and following depletion of the primordial follicle reserve by exposure to doxorubicin (DXR), trichostatin A (TSA), or whole-body γ-irradiation. We show that primordial follicle number remains stable in adult C57BL/6 mice between the ages of 25 and 100 days. However, within 2 days of treatment with DXR or TSA, primordial follicle numbers had declined to 65 and 51% respectively (P<0.05–0.01 when compared to untreated controls), with no restoration of follicle numbers evident after 7 days for either treatment. Furthermore, ovaries from mice subjected to sterilizing doses of γ-irradiation (0.45 or 4.5 Gy) revealed complete ablation of all primordial follicles 5 days after treatment, with no indication of follicular renewal. We conclude that neo-folliculogenesis does not occur following chemical or γ-irradiation mediated depletion of the primordial follicle reserve.