Ovarian development begins back in the embryo with the formation of primordial germ cells and their subsequent migration and colonisation of the genital ridges. Once the ovary has been defined structurally, the primordial germ cells transform into oocytes and become housed in structures called follicles (in this case, primordial follicles), a procedure that, in most mammals, occurs either shortly before or during the first few days after birth. The growth and differentiation of follicles from the primordial population is termed folliculogenesis. Primordial follicles give rise to primary follicles that transform into preantral follicles, then antral follicles (secondary follicles) and, finally (preovulatory) Graafian follicles (tertiary follicles) in a co-ordinated series of transitions regulated by hormones and local intraovarian factors. Members of the transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) superfamily have been shown to play important roles in this developmental process starting with the specification of primordial germ cells by the bone morphogenetic proteins through to the recruitment of primordial follicles by anti-Mullerian hormone and, potentially, growth and differentiation factor-9 (GDF9) and, finally, their transformation into preantral and antral follicles in response to activin and TGF-β. Developmental and mutant mouse models have been used to show the importance of this family of growth factors in establishing the first wave of folliculogenesis.
- Transforming growth factor-β