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Reprod Biomed Online. 2005 Feb;10(2):182-91.

Establishment of oocyte population in the fetal ovary: primordial germ cell proliferation and oocyte programmed cell death.

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Department of Public Health and Cell Biology, Section of Histology and Embryology, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Via Montpellier 1, 00173 Rome, Italy.


Strict control of cell proliferation and cell loss is essential for the coordinated functions of different cell populations in complex multicellular organisms. Oogenesis is characterized by a first phase occurring during embryo-fetal life and in common with spermatogenesis, during which mitotic proliferation of the germline stem cells, the primordial germ cells (PGC), prevails over germ cell death. The result is the formation of a relatively high number of germ cells depending on the species, ready to enter sex specific differentiation. In the female, PGC enter into meiosis and become oocytes, thereby ending their stem cell potential. After entering into meiosis in the fetal ovary, oocytes pass through leptotene, zygotene and pachytene stages before arresting in the last stage of meiotic prophase I, the diplotene or dictyate stage at about the time of birth. The most part of oocytes die during the fetal period or shortly after birth. It is widely accepted that in mammals a female is born with a fixed number of oocytes within the ovaries, which over the years progressively decreases without possibility for renewal. Once the oocyte reserve has been exhausted, ovarian senescence, driving what is referred to as the menopause in women, rapidly ensues. The fertile lifespan of a female depends by the size of the oocyte pool at birth and the rapidity of the oocyte pool depletion. Which mechanisms control PGC proliferation? Why do most of the oocytes die during fetal life and what are the mechanisms of such massive degeneration? Is it possible to prolong the lifespan of a female by reducing oocyte lost during the fetal life? This review reports some of the most recent results obtained in an attempt to answer these questions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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