PROBLEM: Formation of primordial follicles in adult ovaries could be a cryptic process limited to relatively small areas of the ovarian cortex and occurring during a certain stage of the menstrual cycle. Such an event may require a specific milieu provided by factors involved in developmental processes, i.e., morphoregulatory molecules and macrophages.
METHOD: Adult human ovaries were investigated by immunohistochemistry for surface epithelium and granulosa cell markers (cytokeratin 18 and MHC class I), immune system-related morphoregulatory molecules (Thy-1 glycoprotein and N-CAM), and macrophage phenotypes (CD14, CD68, and MHC class II).
RESULTS: In some ovaries 300–500 μm areas of surface epithelium were overgrown by tunica albuginea, descended into the stroma, and apparently fragmented into individual small (20–40 μm) follicle-like cell nests. Differentiation of the surface epithelium was accompanied by macrophages and Thy-1 glycoprotein. Small segments of surface epithelium showed N-CAM and a lacked MHC class I expression. In such segments, clear spherical germ-like cells migrated into the deeper stroma, associated with the microvasculature, and eventually aggregated with follicle-like cell nests.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that surface epithelium may be involved in the formation of some primordial follicles in adult ovaries. This process, and further follicular fate, may require a precise interplay of immune system related morphoregulatory molecules and macrophages.