Posted: April 3, 2024

Newly identified protein function may reveal understanding of lifetime fertility

A protein in mouse ovaries regulates the formation of the ovarian follicle reserve, which comprises a mammal's lifetime supply of egg cells and surrounding support cells, according to a new study conducted by a U.S.-Canadian team.

The discovery provides a foundation for further research on premature ovarian insufficiency and menopause in women and reproductive problems in dairy cows.

According to Camilla Hughes, who led the research as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Montreal and is now an assistant professor of reproductive biology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, finding the protein — called steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1) — and identifying its role has substantial implications for human and cattle reproductive health and success.

"It helps us to know how the stage is set for lifetime fertility," Hughes said about the study, the findings of which were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Understanding how many eggs the ovary will have at a given time will help us, perhaps, to develop technologies to influence the ovarian follicle reserve. If it is amenable to drug modulation, it becomes an attractive target for the development of therapeutic interventions to address conditions where follicle depletion is the cause of infertility."

The ovarian reserve — established prior to or around the time of birth in mammals — comprises the nonrenewing pool of immature eggs and supporting cells (referred to together as follicles), representing the lifetime fertility potential of the ovary. Follicle depletion accompanies the natural aging process and is a primary cause of menopause in humans.

—Jeff Mulhollem