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The ovarian cycle

Explore the ovarian cycle's intricate process, where each month, a woman's eggs mature, potentially leading to pregnancy. Understand the role of follicles, granulosa cells, and hormones in this 28-day cycle. Discover how the ovarian cycle contributes to the menstrual cycle and the changes that occur during menopause. Created by Vishal Punwani.

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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Jorge A. Garcia Lugo
    Hi, if you only lose 20 eggs a month that is only about 9,600ish in 40 years. No were near 2-4 millions.
    (17 votes)
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    • female robot amelia style avatar for user amelia
      I assume you're wondering where they went? From 16 weeks gestational age to birth, eggs diminish quickly, resulting in the quoted 2 million. By puberty, the eggs also diminish qickly to 300 000-400 000. About 1000 die each month after that, by other mechanisms, in addition to the 20 with each ovulation. Ultimately, this results in a lack of eggs by 40 years of age in many cases [begin IVF]. Women typically finish mensturating (menopause) with 1000 eggs left. The quality of the eggs also greatly decreases with time, so don't go planning to fertilize those eggs without a specialist consult first.
      (18 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Lyna L'Heureux
    I have heard that hormonal contraception inhibits ovulation. Is it true and if so do the women who use this kind of contraception for a significant amount of time have their menopause later on?
    (7 votes)
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    • marcimus pink style avatar for user Selket
      Combination contraceptives (contain estrogen and progesterone) inhibit ovulation. The estrogen component administered during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle prevents the LH surge from occurring which is necessary for ovulation. With no LH surge, the egg is not expelled from the ovary. (See the videos on Reproductive cycle graph). Menopause is not delayed in individuals who use this type of contraceptive because you still have those ~25ish oocytes going through atresia each cycle, the only difference is that the dominant follicle goes through atresia as well.
      (15 votes)
  • leaf grey style avatar for user Janee
    why do we cramp so bad during our menstrual cycle?
    (7 votes)
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    • aqualine seedling style avatar for user SpinosaurusRex
      Menstrual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus, which is a muscle. The uterus, the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows, contracts throughout a woman's menstrual cycle. If the uterus contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus. Pain results when part of a muscle briefly loses its supply of oxygen.
      (11 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Hhaschem
    In the previous video he said secondary oocyte develops only after fertilization, here it is said that a secondary oocyte is traveling in the uterine tube hoping for fertilization. Which is it?
    (8 votes)
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    • marcimus pink style avatar for user Selket
      What is ovulated from the ovary is an oocyte that has completed Meiosis I and begun Meiosis II having arrested at metaphase II. This metaphase II arrested oocyte is a secondary follicle. Therefore, what is ovulated is a secondary oocyte that will later come in contact with a sperm in the uterine tube where it will complete Meiosis II, and VERY shortly after become a zygote.
      (9 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Oshien
    what happens to the egg itself if it's not fertilized?
    (3 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Iris S
    Is the zona pellucida still surounding the egg as it pops out of the ovary?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Richa Kumari
    Can 2 sperms fertilize one egg?
    (2 votes)
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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user shubhsnow
    At , about 15-25 eggs are lost per month to atresia. If only the dominant follicle is swept into the fallopian tube, what path do these degenerated eggs take get to the outside(it is said that they are discarded through menstruation,but how?).

    Also, at , we start off with 2-4 million eggs at birth, which is said to be reduced to zero at the age of 35. Even if 25 eggs were discarded per 28 days for 35 years, number of eggs lost would clearly be less than a million.
    13(months of 28 days each) * 25(eggs discarded)*35 = 11375(total eggs discarded)
    This number is barely 1% of a million.
    Then how are we left with zero at the age of 35-ish? Thanks in advance!
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf yellow style avatar for user Johannes
      I may be able to answer your second question. The maximum number of eggs in a female is actually at approximately 5 months into the prenatal period ( before birth). The number is then estimated to be around 7 million! From here, it only goes down. The cells start du degenerate by themselves, even without any ovarian cycle. At birth, according to Langman's Embryology, the estimated number is closer to 700.000 - 2 million.

      Then, at puberty, only about 400.000 are left. And even more interesting, less than 500 will be ovulated!
      A little fun fact:
      Since a woman is born with all her eggs, the older she gets, the higher the probability it is for a birth defect to occur. Take for example downs syndrome. This is much more frequent in women above 40 years of age.

      Hope that clarified it a little more :)
      (2 votes)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Cameron Pollock
    So does that mean a female will have two dominant follicles (one from each ovary) that will release one ovum each per month? This fact might explain why fraternal twins might be quite common but I think fraternal twins are quite rare though.
    (2 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user SiddharthRao97
    what is the main function of LH and why does it surge on the 14th day ? What is the role of estrogen in ovulation ?
    (1 vote)
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    • starky seedling style avatar for user lakshmi
      LH is present in both males and females,an acute rise of LH ("LH surge") triggers ovulation and development of the corpus luteum in females. In males, where LH had also been called interstitial cell-stimulating hormone (ICSH), it stimulates Leydig cell production of testosterone. It acts synergistically with FSH.
      The release of hormones from the gonads can suppress the secretion of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone and, in turn, luteinising hormone from the anterior pituitary gland. When levels of hormones from the gonads fall the reverse happens and gonadtrophin releasing hormone and hence luteinising hormone rise. This is known as negative feedback.
      In women oestrogen and progesterone exert the same effect except at the midpoint in the menstrual cycle. At this point, high oestrogen secretions from the ovary stimulate a surge of luteinising hormone from the pituitary gland, which triggers ovulation.
      Role of estrogen or oestrogen in ovulation: controlling the growth of the uterine lining during the first part of the cycle. If the woman's egg is not fertilized, estrogen levels decrease sharply and menstruation begins. If the egg is fertilized, estrogen works with progesterone, another hormone, to stop ovulation during pregnancy.
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

- We're gonna talk about the ovarian cycle. The ovaries are two structures in a female's reproductive system that produce her eggs. Each month her eggs go through a maturation process called the ovarian cycle, and that cycle creates a secondary oocyte than can be then fertilized by a sperm to result in a pregnancy. The ovarian cycle is also responsible for what we commonly know as the menstrual cycle. Basically, the primary oocytes that are destined to be ovulated will develop in the ovaries, complete meiosis one just before ovulation, and then they'll be ejected out of the ovary as a secondary oocyte to be picked up by the fimbriae and swept into the uterine tube to hope for fertilization. So let's start from the beginning. Inside the ovaries, eggs develop in structures called follicles, these purple circles here. And they start off as primordial follicles. And so what a follicle is- I'll just blow that up for you- It's one primary oocyte, so an egg cell, surrounded by a layer of cells called granulosa cells. And the granulosa cells develop and become more numerous as the follicle matures. Now the granulosa cells also secrete a few hormones. Estrogen, a little progesterone and some inhibin, and we'll talk about the functions of those a little bit later on. So let's put a timeline on this. Now the ovarian cycle lasts 28 days. This is day zero here at the primordial follicle, where we're going counter-clockwise. All the way over here, this is day 13. Here, where the secondary oocyte gets ejected, or ovulated, that's day 14. And then the rest of the time spent getting back to the primordial follicle stage are days 15 through 28. So now you have an idea of about how long this all takes. So you remember when we said that the granulosa cells produce hormones? Well, as the follicles develop over the first 13 days, and you can see the changes between the one here and the one here. It's got a lot more purple cells around here. Those are granulosa cells. So the number of granulosa cells goes up, and since they produce hormones, what do you think happens to the hormone levels in the blood? They go up. So that's sort of just a general point. So keep that in mind, but first we'll jump back to these. We know these are primordial follicles here. The next stage of development are these guys here, and these are called primary follicles. And in the primary follicles, the layers of granulosa cells and the oocyte, the egg, start to be separated by this other layer that starts to form between them. That's called the zona pellucida, and I'll draw it here in light blue. And even though the egg I've drawn in blue, there's still a layer of zona pellucida, even though the egg is originally drawn in blue because I wanted to draw the egg in blue. There's still a layer of zone pellucida around it. Now even though the zona pellucida is there separating the granulosa cells from the actual egg, the granulosa cells can still nourish the egg through gap junctions that go through the zona pellucida and into the egg. Gap junctions are just little passageways from one cell to another cell where they can exchange nutrients or other signals. And actually, through those gap junctions, the granulosa cells send through little chemicals that keep those primary oocytes stuck at that meiosis one stage, 'cause you remember at this point all of these primary oocytes are stuck in meiotic arrest. They're not dividing and reducing their chromosome copy number. So as we develop from our primordial to our primary to our next follicle here, called our pre-antral follicle, and you'll see why it's called that in a minute, the granulosa cells are actually starting to divide and become a lot greater in number. You can see that there's a pretty big difference in granulosa cell number from our primary follicles to our pre-antral follicle here. And remember the granulosa cells are shaded in in purple here. So while the granulosa cells are proliferating, this wall on the outside of the follicle called the theca starts to form. Theca cells have receptors for luteinizing hormone from the anterior pituitary, and when luteinizing hormone, or LH, binds these theca cells, they produce a hormone called androstenedione. And when the thecas get androstenedione, they give it to the granulosa cells, who then convert it to estrogen and release it into the blood. So the blood estrogen levels start to go up at this point. And so that's what these red and blue bits running down the middle of the ovary are, blood vessels, arteries and veins. And if they look a little bit weird to you, or unusual, that's just because they're cut in cross-section as well. Now you might be wondering what an antral refers to, like what you see in the pre-antral follicle and this early antral follicle here. It actually refers to the antrum, which will be formed in the next step. This space here is called an antrum. And the antrum is just basically fluid that's being produced by the granulosa cells. And it's that antrum and the fluid in the antrum that pushes against the edges of the follicle and causes it to expand. Now just so you're aware, during this ovarian cycle, multiple follicles are actually forming. It's not just this one pre-antral follicle, and then this one early antral follicle, and this one mature follicle. You're getting a lot of these happening at one time. But only one of the biggest ones is the one that eventually gets ovulated, because you only ovulate one egg every 28 days. And that one that gets ovulated is called the dominant follicle. So let's just say that what we're seeing here is an example of the dominant follicle's development. Because the rest of the ones that were developing along this pathway sort of degenerate and die off in a process called atresia. So I'll write that at the bottom here. And atresia just means to degenerate. So another note. In the ones that undergo atresia, both the follicle and the eggs they contain die off. And that means that a woman loses anywhere between 15 to 25 eggs per menstrual cycle to atresia, while only one gets ovulated. So you can kind of imagine how you go from two to four million eggs when you were born to having zero after about 35-ish years of ovulation. It's not just that one egg you lose by ovulation. You lose quite a few. So anyway, back to the development of the dominant follicle. It enlarges mostly due to the expanding antrum, as I mentioned earlier. And granulosa cells actually start to form this bit of a mound here that protrudes into the middle of the antrum. This mound of granulosa cells is called the cumulus oophorus. As part of the development of the dominant follicle, the cumulus oophorus and the egg sort of separate together from the wall of the follicle and float around in the middle of the antrum, like a little island. And the follicle increases in size. So the actual follicle is increasing in size as it gets filled with more and more fluid from the granulosa cells. And the granulosa cells are just producing fluid as a by-product of their metabolism and creation of hormones. Eventually this dominant follicle, which at this point is called the mature follicle, it starts to balloon out the side of the ovary, kind of like this. Just starts to push out against the edge of the ovary. And then because the edge of the ovary and the wall of the mature follicle are in such close proximity, enzymes within the follicle break down that common wall between them, and the egg pops out onto the surface of the ovary, because now this wall is broken down. And by the way, an enzyme is a protein that carries out a specific task. The task here is to break down the wall between the mature follicle and the ovary, and that happens on day 14. So it takes day zero to 13 of build up to get to this event. When this happens, some women feel a little bit of pelvic pain. And actually sometimes, by chance, two or more follicles reach maturity, and they all pop out. And that's how you get twins or triplets or quadruplets or octuplets, when they all pop out and get fertilized by different sperm each. Because they're all subsequently swept up into the uterine tubes where sperm can fertilize them. So now you have the egg out here, but what about the old follicle it was in? The follicle actually collapses a little and transforms into a structure called the corpus luteum. And in this transformation the granulosa cells get a lot bigger and start to produce more estrogen, progesterone and that other hormone, inhibin, that we mentioned before. Just briefly, inhibin lowers the amount of FSH, follicle stimulating hormone, that comes from the anterior pituitary. And it does that because follicle stimulating hormone actually propagates this whole process of follicle maturation, as you can imagine from the name. So if you didn't know this before, these are the exact follicles that follicle stimulating hormone refers to. At least in a female. Anyway, if the egg doesn't get fertilized, then the corpus luteum reaches a maximum size in about 10 days. So that's about day 25, which it's probably sitting at in this diagram. And then it degenerates by apoptosis. That's a process that cells use to sort of self-destruct and die off. And here I'm abbreviating corpus luteum as CL, just so you know what I mean. But if the egg is fertilized, i.e., it travels into the uterine tubes and gets fertilized by a sperm, then the corpus luteum persists, I mean it keeps living, because we want it to keep producing estrogen and progesterone. That's because estrogen and progesterone prepare the inner lining of the uterus, that's called the endometrium, for implantation, which would be really handy since we have a fertilized egg now that needs to develop. And that's where it does it, by implanting in the endometrium of the uterus. So just a final note. Ovulation doesn't happen forever. At about age 50 to 51, females undergo something called menopause. First menstrual cycles become less and less regular. In other words, they don't happen every 28 days like they do when you're under the age of 50. And then ultimately, they stop happening entirely. And that cessation of ovulation is called menopause. The main cause of menopause is sometimes referred to as ovarian failure. Basically the ovaries lose the ability to respond to signalling hormones from the brain called gonadotropins. And we know these as LH and FSH. And this happens because most, or all of the follicles and eggs have already gone through that process that we talked about called atresia. In other words, they've degenerated.