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Chuck R Greenfeld, Melissa E Pepling, Janice K Babus, Priscilla A Furth, and Jodi A Flaws

It is believed that the endowment of primordial follicles in mammalian ovaries is finite. Once follicles are depleted, infertility ensues. Thus, the size of the initial endowment has consequences for fertility and reproductive longevity. Follicular endowment is comprised of various processes that culminate with the incorporation of meiosis-arrested oocytes into primordial follicles. Apoptosis is prominent during follicular endowment, and apoptosis regulatory genes are involved in its regulation. Conflicting data exist with regard to the role of the proapoptotic Bcl-2 associated X protein (BAX) in follicular endowment. Therefore, we investigated the role of BAX during follicular endowment in embryonic and neonatal ovaries. We found that BAX is involved in regulating follicular endowment in mice. Deletion of Bax yields increased oocyte numbers in embryonic ovaries and increased follicle numbers in neonatal ovaries when compared with wild-type ovaries. Increased follicular endowment in Bax−/−ovaries is not due to enhanced germ cell viability. Further, it is not due to an increased primordial germ cell (PGC) allotment, a delay in the onset of meiosis, or altered proliferative activity of oogonia. Instead, our data suggest that the regulatory activity of BAX in follicular endowment likely occurs during PGC migration, prior to PGC colonization of the gonad.

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Chuck R Greenfeld, Janice K Babus, Priscilla A Furth, Sam Marion, Patricia B Hoyer, and Jodi A Flaws

Mammalian females are endowed with a finite number of primordial follicles at birth or shortly thereafter. Immediately following the formation of the primordial follicle pool, cohorts of these follicles are recruited to begin growth, and this recruitment continues until the primordial follicle population is depleted. Once recruited, a follicle will either grow and ovulate or undergo atresia. Follicle atresia results from the apoptotic death of follicular cells. Members of the BCL-2 family of proteins are important regulators of apoptosis in most cells including in the ovary. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the proapoptotic BAX is an important regulator of follicle survival. We used a variety of histological and biochemical techniques to investigate the impact of Bax deletion on follicle growth and death. We observed that the Bax deletion results in delayed vaginal opening and altered follicular growth. Young adult Bax-deficient ovaries contained increased numbers of primordial follicles and a trend towards reduced numbers of growing follicles. Bax deficiency led to a reduction in average litter size, and also a reduction in the number of oocytes ovulated in response to exogenous gonadotropins. In contrast, Bax deficiency did not alter follicle atresia. In conclusion, BAX appears to be an important regulator of follicle growth, but is dispensable for follicle atresia in mice.