An evo-devo perspective of the female reproductive tract

Andrew T. Major, Martin A. Estermann, Zahida Y. Roly, Craig A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The vertebrate female reproductive tract has undergone considerable diversification over evolution, having become physiologically adapted to different reproductive strategies. This review considers the female reproductive tract from the perspective of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). Very little is known about how the evolution of this organ system has been driven at the molecular level. In most vertebrates, the female reproductive tract develops from paired embryonic tubes, the Müllerian ducts. We propose that formation of the Müllerian duct is a conserved process that has involved co-option of genes and molecular pathways involved in tubulogenesis in the adjacent mesonephric kidney and Wolffian duct. Downstream of this conservation, genetic regulatory divergence has occurred, generating diversity in duct structure. Plasticity of the Hox gene code and wnt signaling, in particular, may underlie morphological variation of the uterus in mammals, and evolution of the vagina. This developmental plasticity in Hox and Wnt activity may also apply to other vertebrates, generating the morphological diversity of female reproductive tracts evident today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-23
Number of pages15
JournalBiology of Reproduction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Müllerian duct
  • sex determination
  • female reproductive tract
  • oviduct
  • Hox genes
  • evo-devo

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