Skip to content

    Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Women Not Born With Lifetime Supply of Eggs?

    Animal Study Shows Mammals Have a Reserve of Egg-Producing Follicles
    By
    WebMD Health News

    March 10, 2004 -- A surprising finding about female fertility in mice is challenging the notion that women are born with a lifetime's supply of eggs.

    Researchers have long believed that female mammals, including mice and humans, were born with a fixed supply of egg-producing follicles in their ovaries. In contrast, most male mammals continuously generate new sperm cells that allow them to reproduce throughout their adult life.

    But a new study published in the March 11 issue of Nature shows that female mice continue to produce eggs to replace damaged ones after birth.

    Researchers say the discovery indicates that females may share the ability to replenish reproductive cells during life, and if the same process occurs in humans it may also help explain why female fertility declines rapidly after age 30.

    Finding Challenges Basic Reproductive Biology Beliefs

    Researchers say that the theory that female mammals are born with a fixed supply of eggs stems from studies that showed females develop a finite number of egg-producing follicles in their ovaries during fetal life, as opposed to males who continue to generate sperm-producing cells throughout their lives.

    "Although this dogma has persisted for more than 50 years, the present study provides evidence that challenges the validity of this belief, which represents one of the most basic underpinnings of reproductive biology," write researcher Joshua Johnson of Harvard Medical School and colleagues.

    Rather than having a fixed supply of egg-producing follicles, the study shows that female mice have a reserve supply of cells that replenish the follicle pool during adolescence as damaged follicles die.

    In the study, researchers carefully measured follicle numbers at birth and then tracked their subsequent loss in female mice. They found that adolescent mice had about 2,500-5,000 healthy follicles but the number of dying follicles increased rapidly to up to 1,200 per ovary after adolescence.

    Dying follicles degenerate or disappear within a few days, which means that the total number of healthy follicles should have dropped rapidly during this time period. Instead the study showed that in female mice the ovaries contain a population of cells that are required to maintain overall number of follicles for adult life.

    Today on WebMD

    Four pregnant women standing in a row
    How much do you know about conception?
    Couple with surrogate mother
    Which one is right for you?
     
    couple lying in grass holding hands
    Why Dad's health matters.
    couple viewing positive pregnancy test
    6 ways to improve your chances.
     
    Which Treatment Is Right For You
    Slideshow
    Conception Myths
    Article
     
    eddleman prepare your body pregnancy
    Video
    Conception
    Slideshow
     
    Charting Your Fertility Cycle
    Article
    Fertility Specialist
    Article
     
    Understanding Fertility Symptoms
    Article
    invitro fertilization
    Article
     

    WebMD Special Sections