The menstrual cycle in women is characterised by high variability in cycle length (26-35 days), 5-day menses, a fertile phase from 5 days before to the day of ovulation, and low fertility which is dependent on cycle length and age. All women show an FSH rise at the luteal-follicular transition, stimulating a cohort of follicular growth and inhibin B secretion in the early follicular phase. The ovulatory dominant follicle (DF) is selected in the mid-follicular phase, and as this DF grows it increasingly secretes oestradiol and inhibin A for a week before ovulation. Gonadotrophin responsiveness, IGF binding protein expression and degradation, and vascularisation have been identified to be crucial for DF selection and progression. Two-thirds of women show two follicle waves and 1/3 show 3 follicle waves per cycle. Three-wave women have longer cycles, and a later oestradiol rise and LH surge. The corpus luteum secretes progesterone, oestradiol and inhibin A in response to LH pulses, and reaches its peak in terms of size, secretions, and vascularization 6-7 days after ovulation. Luteal regression is passive and independent of the uterus, but can be prevented by hCG, the luteotrophic signal from the trophoblast, from 8 days after conception. Reductions in systemic steroid and protein hormone concentrations may be responsible for the FSH rise characteristic of premenopausal women. The functional layer of the endometrium shows steroid hormone-dependent proliferation, differentiation, and shedding in the absence of the trophoblast. Menstruation is initiated by progesterone responsive decidual cells, and executed by PGE and PGF2α, vasoconstriction and matrix metalloprotease secretion by leukocytes. Ovarian function and also hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle are similar to oestrous cycles of cows and mares, justifying research into comparative aspects of menstrual and oestrous cycles in monovulatory species.
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