Successful ovulation requires that developmentally competent oocytes are released with appropriate timing from the ovarian follicle. Somatic cells of the follicle sense the ovulatory stimulus and guide resumption of meiosis and release of the oocyte, as well as structural remodelling and luteinization of the follicle. Complex intercellular communication co-ordinates critical stages of oocyte maturation and links this process with release from the follicle. To achieve these outcomes, ovulation is controlled through multiple inputs, including endocrine hormones, immune and metabolic signals, as well as intrafollicular paracrine factors from the theca, mural and cumulus granulosa cells and the oocyte itself. This review focuses on the recent advances in understanding of molecular mechanisms that commence after the gonadotrophin surge and culminate with release of the oocyte. These mechanisms include intracellular signalling, gene regulation and remodelling of tissue structure in each of the distinct ovarian compartments. Most critical ovulatory mediators exert effects through the cumulus cell complex that surrounds and connects with the oocyte. The convergence of ovulatory signals through the cumulus complex co-ordinates the key mechanistic processes that mediate and control oocyte maturation and ovulation.
- Ovarian follicle