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The follicle stages from primordial follicle to tertiary follicle

Primordial follicle

At the time of birth all the surviving primary oocytes are surrounded by thin, single layers of so-called follicular epithelial cells. These are delimited from the rest of the ovarian stroma by a thin basal lamina. Follicular epithelial cells are former coelomic epithelial cells. The primordial follicles always form the majority of the follicles in the ovary.

Under the influence of the sex hormones some of them are able to develop further to one or more of the subsequent stages in the following 50 years. Although this further development can already take place sporadically in the time before birth and up to puberty, the main part occurs as soon as a regular hormonal cycle is established. Particularly the last phase of the maturation of a tertiary follicle to become a large follicle, ready to rupture, remains reserved for the time of regular cycles.

Primary follicle

In the transition of the primordial follicles into primary follicles the follicular epithelium that surrounds the oocyte becomes iso- to highly prismatic.

Fig. 19 - Primary follicle

Primordial follicle
Primary follicle
Follicular epithelium

Fig. 19

Scheme of the development from primordial follicle to primary follicle.

Secondary follicle

When primary follicles survive, secondary follicles with follicular epitheliums encompassing multiple rows are engendered. This is now called the stratum granulosum. In the secondary follicles a glycoprotein layer, the pellucid zone, between the oocyte and follicular epithelium becomes visible. Cytoplasmic processes of the granulosa cells that lie upon it reach the oocyte through the pellucid zone and thereby assure their maintenance function. Outside the basal lamina the stroma ovarii organizes itself to become theca folliculi cells.

Fig. 20 - Secondary follicle

  1. Oocyte
  2. Zona pellucida
  3. Stratum granulosum
  4. Theca folliculi cellls

Fig. 20

Scheme of a secondary follicle:in the transition from primary to secondary follicle the stratum granulosum is engendered from the cells of the follicular epithelium. The stroma ovarii organizes itself around the secondary follicle to become the theca folliculi (interna and externa).

More over

Histology of primordial, primary, and secondary follicles.

Tertiary follicle

If the secondary follicles survive, tertiary follicles are engendered. Their identifying characteristic is a fluid-filled cavity, the antral follicle. The oocyte lies at the edge in a mound made of granulosa epithelial cells, the cumulus oophorus. In the meantime it has grown so large that its cellular nucleus has attained the size of a whole primordial follicle. The connective tissue around the follicle has already clearly differentiated itself into a theca interna, well supplied with capillaries, out of large, lipid-rich cells (hormone production) and a theca externa, which forms a transition to the stroma ovarii and contains larger vessels.

Fig. 21 - Tertiary follicle

  1. Oocyte
  2. Pellucid zone
  3. Stratum granulosum
  4. Theca interna
  5. Theca externa
  6. Antral follicle
  7. Cumulus oophorus (Granulosa cells, together with the oocyte)
  8. Basal lamina between theca and stratum granulosum

Fig. 21

In a tertiary follicle the theca can be subdivided into an interna (hormone production) and an externa (transition to the ovarian stroma).

More over

Histology of tertiary follicles.

More over

Histology of cumulus oophorus.

Decisive for a successful follicle growth is a well-developed net of capillaries in the theca interna. The precise steering mechanism that leads to the selection of a follicle and its subsequent maturation to become a graafian follicle is still unknown. Before ovulation a growth spurt of the tertiary follicles takes place.

Graafian follicle

This corresponds to an especially large tertiary follicle that can be expected to suffice for ovulation.