Postnatal regulation of germ cells by activin: the establishment of the initial follicle pool

Dev Biol. 2006 Oct 1;298(1):132-48. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2006.06.025. Epub 2006 Jun 17.


Mammalian females enter puberty with follicular reserves that exceed the number needed for ovulation during a single lifetime. Follicular depletion occurs throughout reproductive life and ends in menopause, or reproductive senescence, when the follicle pool is exhausted. The mechanisms regulating the production of a species-specific initial follicle pool are not well understood. However, the establishment of a follicular reserve is critical to defining the length of reproductive cyclicity. Here we show that activin A (rh-ActA), a known regulator of follicle formation and growth in vitro, increased the number of postnatal mouse primordial follicles by 30% when administered to neonatal animals during the time of germline cyst breakdown and follicle assembly. This expansion in the initial follicle pool was characterized by a significant increase in both germ cell and granulosa cell proliferation. However, the excess follicles formed shortly after birth did not persist into puberty and both adult rh-ActA- and vehicle-treated animals demonstrated normal fertility. A follicle atresia kinetic constant (k(A)) was modeled for the two groups of animals, and consistent with the empirical data, the k(A) for rh-ActA-treated was twice that of vehicle-treated animals. Kinetic constants for follicle formation, follicle loss and follicle expansion from birth to postnatal day 19 were also derived for vehicle and rh-ActA treatment conditions. Importantly, introduction of exogenous rh-ActA revealed an intrinsic ovarian quorum sensing mechanism that controls the number of follicles available at puberty. We propose that there is an optimal number of oocytes present at puberty, and when the follicle number is exceeded, it occurs at the expense of oocyte quality. The proposed mechanism provides a means by which the ovary eliminates excess follicles containing oocytes of poor quality prior to puberty, thus maintaining fertility in the face of abnormal hormonal stimuli in the prepubertal period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activin Receptors / metabolism
  • Activins / metabolism*
  • Activins / pharmacokinetics
  • Activins / pharmacology
  • Activins / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Germ Cells / physiology
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Oocytes / drug effects
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Ovarian Follicle / drug effects
  • Ovarian Follicle / physiology*
  • Ovary / cytology
  • Ovary / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / physiology


  • activin A
  • Activins
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Activin Receptors