How an egg cell’s ‘operating manual’ sets the stage for fertility

Recently published work from Carnegie Institution for Science has revealed the genetic instructions immature egg cells go through step by step as they mature into functionality. The findings improve our understanding of how ovaries maintain a female’s fertility.

The general outline of how immature egg cells are assisted by specific ovarian helper cells starting even before a female is born is well understood. But researchers mapped the gene activity of thousands of immature egg cells and helper cells to learn how the stage is set for fertility later in life.

Even before birth, “germ” cells assemble a finite number of cell clusters called follicles in a female’s ovaries. Follicles consist of an immature egg cell and some “helper” cells, which guide the egg through its maturation process. It is from a follicle that a mature egg cell bursts during ovulation.

Understanding what it takes for follicles to form and develop successfully, helps us learn how damaged genes or adverse environmental factors, including a poor diet, can interfere with fertility, the researchers explained. Their research was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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