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Do Ovaries Continue to Produce Eggs During Adulthood?

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | 2 comments

Babies. New research suggests that progenitor germ cells in ovaries continue to divide throughout reproductive life, resulting in production of new oocytes with greater depth as animals age.
ScienceDaily (July 26, 2012) — A compelling new genetic study tracing the origins of immature egg cells, or 'oocytes', from the embryonic period throughout adulthood adds new information to a growing controversy. The notion of a "biological clock" in women arises from the fact that oocytes progressively decline in number as females get older, along with a decades-old dogmatic view that oocytes cannot be renewed in mammals after birth.

After careful assessment of data from a recent study published in PLoS Genetics, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Edinburgh argue that the findings support formation of new eggs during adult life; a topic that has been historically controversial and has sparked considerable debate in recent years.

After careful assessment of data from a recent study published in PLoS Genetics, scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Edinburgh argue that the findings support formation of new eggs during adult life; a topic that has been historically controversial and has sparked considerable debate in recent years.

Eggs are formed from progenitor germ cells that exit the mitotic cycle, thereby ending their ability to proliferate through cell division, and subsequently enter meiosis, a process unique to the formation of eggs and sperm which removes one half of the genetic material from each type of cell prior to fertilization.

While traditional thinking has held that female mammals are born with all of the eggs they will ever have, newer research has demonstrated that adult mouse and human ovaries contain a rare population of progenitor germ cells called oogonial stem cells capable of dividing and generating new oocytes. Using a powerful new genetic tool that traces the number of divisions a cell has undergone with age (its 'depth') Shapiro and colleagues counted the number of times progenitor germ cells divided before becoming oocytes; their study was published in PLoS Genetics in February this year.

If traditional thinking held true, all divisions would have occurred prior to birth, and thus all oocytes would exhibit the same depth regardless of age. However, the opposite was found -- eggs showed a progressive increase in depth as the female mice grew older.

In their assessment of the work by Shapiro and colleagues -- published recently in a PLoS Genetics Perspective article -- reproductive biologists Dori Woods, Evelyn Telfer and Jonathan Tilly conclude that the most plausible explanation for these findings is that progenitor germ cells in ovaries continue to divide throughout reproductive life, resulting in production of new oocytes with greater depth as animals age.

Although these investigations were performed in mice, there is emerging evidence that oogonial stem cells are also present in the ovaries of reproductive-age women, and these cells possess the capacity, like their mouse counterparts, to generate new oocytes under certain experimental conditions. While more work is needed to settle the debate over the significance of oocyte renewal in adult mammals, Woods and colleagues emphasize that "the recent work of Shapiro and colleagues is one of the first reports to offer experimental data consistent with a role for postnatal oocyte renewal in contributing to the reserve of ovarian follicles available for use in adult females as they age."

Journal Reference:

  1. Woods DC, Telfer EE, Tilly JL. Oocyte Family Trees: Old Branches or New Stems? PLOS Genet, 2012 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002848

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Catherine

About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is fascinating, one thing that I wish tilly wouldve explored further is intermittent fasting and egg renewal.
    He touched on it several years ago.
    But now with the Ovascience trying to make money, I doubt he'll reveal again this free way of reviving fertility.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17701-fasting-could-extend-female-fertility.html

  2. Thanks for that article - off to read it now!

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