Progress toward understanding follicle development in vitro: appearances are not deceiving

Arch Med Res. 2001 Nov-Dec;32(6):587-94. doi: 10.1016/s0188-4409(01)00339-3.


The interactive factors that influence the developmental progress of a follicle and determine whether it will progress to ovulation or toward atresia, are highly complex. In vitro models are being developed that are intended to provide a simplified environment to facilitate understanding of the dynamics of the processes involved. The purpose of this overview is to evaluate progress to date and to focus attention on issues that need more careful consideration to improve the usefulness of the models. Basically, two approaches exist. One, attached follicle culture, employs either enzyme-digested or mechanically harvested follicles depending on the method but allows attachment of the follicles to the culture surface. This produces a rounded or flattened structure (depending on culture conditions) that is no longer an intact follicle. During this culture, the cells reorganize themselves, some remaining in contact with the oocyte and others attaching to the culture surface and proliferating. The other approach, intact 3-dimensional follicle culture, employs mechanically dissected preantral follicles that are cultured as free-floating intact structures. Intact follicle culture emulates the in vivo developmental pattern of the follicle more closely than a non-intact structure can, and thereby provides a favorable model to investigate the interaction between hormonal and paracrine factors in the development of the follicle in isolation from systemic effects. For example, intact follicle culture has begun to be used to investigate the local effects of several different steroids. In addition, the local effects of inhibin, activin, and follistatin and their interactions with locally produced growth factors and steroids as well as synergy with gonadotrophins are beginning to be investigated. In our laboratory, the focus is on the roles of gonadotrophins at different stages of follicle development, particularly the effect of FSH isoforms in modulating follicle development in vitro. Finally, an important issue that urgently needs to be addressed, for future studies of in vitro follicle development, is the rationalization and standardization of follicle culture conditions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activins / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Aggregation / drug effects
  • Collagenases / pharmacology
  • Cricetinae
  • Culture Media / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / pharmacology
  • Follistatin
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / pharmacology
  • Granulosa Cells / cytology
  • Granulosa Cells / drug effects
  • Inhibins / pharmacology
  • Luteinizing Hormone / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Models, Biological
  • Oocytes / cytology
  • Oogenesis / drug effects
  • Oogenesis / physiology
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Ovarian Follicle / drug effects
  • Ovarian Follicle / physiology*
  • Paracrine Communication
  • Progesterone / biosynthesis
  • Rats
  • Stress, Mechanical


  • Culture Media
  • Estrogens
  • Follistatin
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Activins
  • Progesterone
  • Inhibins
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Collagenases
  • Ascorbic Acid