Initial and cyclic recruitment of ovarian follicles

Endocr Rev. 2000 Apr;21(2):200-14. doi: 10.1210/edrv.21.2.0394.


Mammalian ovaries consist of follicles as basic functional units. The total number of ovarian follicles is determined early in life, and the depletion of this pool leads to reproductive senescence. Each follicle develops to either ovulate or, more likely, to undergo degeneration. The dynamics of ovarian follicle development have interested endocrinologists and developmental biologists for many years. With the advent of assisted reproductive techniques in humans, the possibility of regulating follicle development in vivo and in vitro has gained clinical relevance. In this review, we focus upon key branching points during the development of ovarian follicles as well as factors involved in determining the eventual destiny of individual follicles. We discuss inconsistencies in the literature regarding the definitions of follicle recruitment and selection and propose to name the two major steps of follicle development as initial and cyclic recruitment, respectively. Because some of these disparities have arisen due to differences in the animal systems studied, we also compare the development of the ovarian follicles of both humans and rats. We also review the status of knowledge of several puzzling clinical issues that may provide important clues toward unlocking the mechanisms of follicle development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Follicular Atresia
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Follicle / growth & development
  • Ovarian Follicle / physiology*
  • Ovulation
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / physiology