The physical properties of the ovarian extracellular matrix (ECM) regulate the function of ovarian cells, specifically the ability of the ovary to maintain a quiescent primordial follicle pool while allowing a subset of follicles to grow and mature in the estrous cycle. Design of a long-term, cycling artificial ovary has been hindered by the limited information regarding the mechanical properties of the ovary. In particular, differences in the mechanical properties of the two ovarian compartments, the cortex and medulla, have never been quantified. Shear wave (SW) ultrasound elastography is an imaging modality that enables assessment of material properties, such as the mechanical properties, based on the velocity of SWs, and visualization of internal anatomy, when coupled with B-mode ultrasound. We used SW ultrasound elastography to assess whole, ex vivo bovine ovaries. We demonstrated, for the first time, a difference in mechanical properties, as inferred from SW velocity, between the cortex and medulla, as measured along the length (cortex: 2.57 ± 0.53 m/s, medulla: 2.87 ± 0.77 m/s, p < 0.0001) and width (cortex: 2.99 ± 0.81 m/s, medulla: 3.24 ± 0.97 m/s, p < 0.05) and that the spatial distribution and magnitude of SW velocity vary between these two anatomical planes. This work contributes to a larger body of literature assessing the mechanical properties of the ovary and related cells and specialized ECMs and will enable the rational design of biomimetic tissue engineered models and durable bioprostheses. Impact Statement Shear wave (SW) ultrasound elastography can be used to simultaneously assess the material properties and tissue structures when accompanied with B-mode ultrasound. We report a quantitative difference in mechanical properties, as inferred from SW velocity, between the cortex and medulla, with SW velocity being 11.4% and 8.4% higher in the medulla than the cortex when measured along the length and width, respectively. This investigation into the spatial and temporal variation in SW velocity in bovine ovaries will encourage and improve design of more biomimetic scaffolds for ovarian tissue engineering.
Keywords: cortex; elastography; mechanical; medulla; ovary; ultrasound.