Follicle dynamics and anovulation in polycystic ovary syndrome

Hum Reprod Update. Jul-Aug 2008;14(4):367-78. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmn015. Epub 2008 May 22.


Background: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the commonest cause of anovulatory infertility and menstrual cycle abnormalities, but the factors responsible for failure to select a dominant follicle remain unclear.

Method: Source is authors' own studies and search of the relevant literature.

Results: Arrest of antral follicle growth is associated with an abnormal endocrine environment involving hypersecretion of luteinizing hormone and insulin (and perhaps hyperandrogenism). The net effect is secondary suppression of FSH, which leads to inhibition of maturation of otherwise healthy follicles in the cohort. There is, however, emerging evidence for an intrinsic abnormality of folliculogenesis in PCOS that affects the very earliest, gonadotrophin independent, stages of follicle development. There is an increased density of small pre-antral follicles and an increased proportion of early growing follicles. These abnormalities in anovulatory PCOS are further defined by abnormal granulosa cell proliferation and disparate growth of oocyte and surrounding granulosa cells. This suggests that the normal 'dialogue' between oocyte and granulosa cells in these early growing follicles is altered. There is evidence that abnormal, local (follicle-to-follicle) signalling of anti-Müllerian hormone may play a part in disordered folliculogenesis, but it is plausible that other local regulators that have been implicated in normal and abnormal pre-antral follicle development-such as insulin-like growth factors and sex steroids-have a role in aberrant folliculogenesis in PCOS.

Conclusions: Significant abnormalities in the very earliest stages of folliculogenesis may be the root cause of anovulation in PCOS.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anovulation / etiology*
  • Anovulation / metabolism
  • Anti-Mullerian Hormone / metabolism
  • Anti-Mullerian Hormone / physiology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Models, Biological
  • Oocytes / cytology
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Ovarian Follicle / growth & development
  • Ovarian Follicle / metabolism
  • Ovarian Follicle / physiopathology*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / complications*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Somatomedins / metabolism
  • Somatomedins / physiology


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Somatomedins
  • Anti-Mullerian Hormone