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MGH study finds female mammals produce egg cells into adulthood

ound in most cells. Finding a protein that is only produced at the onset of meiosis in ovarian cells of young and mature mice indicated that this aspect of oocyte development continues after birth.

  • Busulfan is a chemotherapy drug known to target proliferating germ cells in males but have no effect on mature sperm cells. Three weeks after being injected with busulfan, female mice were found to have only 5 percent the supply of primordial (immature) follicles than control mice had. The investigators went on to show this difference was not due to increased death of primordial follicles, implying that the busulfan-related drop in the number of primordial follicles resulted from an absence of follicular renewal.

  • The researchers grafted ovarian tissue from normal adult mice onto the ovaries of adult transgenic mice that express a green marker protein in all of their cells. Several weeks later the grafted ovaries in the transgenic mice were found to contain hybrid follicles consisting of normal follicular cells surrounding green oocytes. These results demonstrated that transgenic (green) germ cells had migrated from the host ovary into the grafted ovarian tissue and produced green oocytes, which formed new follicles from the surrounding normal cells.

    Tilly says that the concept of a fixed pool of oocytes, first asserted almost a century ago, has been so widely accepted that he is not aware of any studies over the past 50 years that have questioned its accuracy. "The ovaries visibly lose healthy follicles throughout life, while the testes continue to look the same. It was assumed that the decline in total follicles represented the gradual disappearance of a limited supply of oocytes. No one ever attempted to measure the actual rate of oocyte or follicle death before because the dogma was so persuasive," he explains.

    Among many potential implications of the study is a different mechanism underlying ovarian aging. It is known t
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  • Contact: Sue McGreevey
    smcgreevey@partners.org
    617-724-2764
    Massachusetts General Hospital
    10-Mar-2004


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