The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 949 - 958 (2012)

Vol 56, Issue 10-11-12

Special Issue: Female Germ Cells in Development & Tumors

The fate of granulosa cells following premature oocyte loss and the development of ovarian cancers

Published: 29 January 2013

Janet L. Pitman*,1, Alan S. McNeilly2, Judy R. McNeilly2, Laura E. Hays3, Grover C. Bagby Jr.3, Heywood R. Sawyer4 and Kenneth P. McNatty1

1School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, 2MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, The Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, 3Knight Cancer Institute, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA and 4School of Pharmacy, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA


This review examines the importance of the epithelial origin of granulosa cells and their possible contribution to the development of ovarian cancers in three animal models. We hypothesise that undifferentiated granulosa cells, devoid of their germ cell regulator, retain their embryonic plasticity and may give rise to ovarian cancers of epithelial origin. Dazl-KO and FancD2-KO mice and BMP15-KO sheep are animal models in which germ cells or oocytes are lost at specific stages of follicular formation or growth, leaving behind clusters of residual, but healthy somatic cells. A common feature in Dazl- and Fancd2-KO animals following germ cell/oocyte loss is the presence of sex cords and intraovarian epithelial ducts or tubules. In Dazl-KO mice, cord/tubule-like structures, OSE invaginations and clusters of steroidogenic cells became increasingly prominent with age, but these abnormal structures remained benign. In Fancd2-KO mice, the formation of sex-cords and intraovarian tubules lead to the formation of tumours with multiple phenotypes including luteomas, papillary cysts and malignant carcinomas (e.g. adenocarcinomas). In BMP15-KO sheep, oocytes die as follicles start to grow, leaving ‘nodules’ containing granulosa cells with a capacity to respond to follicle stimulating hormone and synthesize inhibin. Thereafter, these nodules coalesced and a range of benign solid or semi-solid tumour phenotypes developed. We conclude that premature loss of oocytes, but not granulosa cells, leads to tumour formation with multiple phenotypes. Moreover, the severity of tumour development is linked to both the speci-ficity of the mutation and the timing of oocyte loss relative to that of follicular formation.


germ cell, sex cord, intraovarian tubule, tumor, epithelium

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