Theca: The Forgotten Cell of the Ovarian Follicle

Reproduction. 2010 Oct;140(4):489-504. doi: 10.1530/REP-10-0094. Epub 2010 Jul 13.

Abstract

Theca cells function in a diverse range of necessary roles during folliculogenesis; to synthesize androgens, provide crosstalk with granulosa cells and oocytes during development, and provide structural support of the growing follicle as it progresses through the developmental stages to produce a mature and fertilizable oocyte. Thecal cells are thought to be recruited from surrounding stromal tissue by factors secreted from an activated primary follicle. The precise origin and identity of these recruiting factors are currently not clear, but it appears that thecal recruitment and/or differentiation involves not just one signal, but a complex and tightly controlled combination of multiple factors. It is clear that thecal cells are fundamental for follicular growth, providing all the androgens required by the developing follicle(s) for conversion into estrogens by the granulosa cells. Their function is enabled through the establishment of a vascular system providing communication with the pituitary axis throughout the reproductive cycle, and delivering essential nutrients to these highly active cells. During development, the majority of follicles undergo atresia, and the theca cells are often the final follicular cell type to die. For those follicles that do ovulate, the theca cells then undergo hormone-dependent differentiation into luteinized thecal cells of the corpus luteum. While the theca is an essential component of follicle development and ovulation, we do not yet fully understand the control of recruitment and function of theca cells, an important consideration since their function appears to be altered in certain causes of infertility.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Corpus Luteum / physiology*
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Granulosa Cells / cytology
  • Granulosa Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Follicle / cytology
  • Ovarian Follicle / physiology*
  • Theca Cells / cytology
  • Theca Cells / physiology*

Substances

  • Androgens
  • Estrogens