University of Oulu

Regulation of apoptosis in the female reproductive system

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Author: Vaskivuo, Tommi1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.6 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2002
Publish Date: 2002-05-08
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium 4 of the University Hospital of Oulu, on May 8th, 2002, at 12 noon.
Reviewer: Professor John E. Eriksson
Docent Jorma Toppari


Apoptosis is a genetically programmed mechanism for a multicellular organism to remove cells that are unnecessary, or potentially harmful. The female reproductive system is characterised by a high rate of cellular proliferation. At the same time, apoptosis is also abundant during the normal physiological function of the ovary and endometrium. More than half of the 7 million oocytes that are produced during human ovarian development are deleted before birth and only about 400 oocytes reach the stage of ovulation during the female fertile lifespan. The fate of the non-ovulatory follicles is atresia, occurring through the mechanism of apoptosis. The endometrium goes through radical renewal processes during each menstrual cycle. Apoptosis has been suggested to participate in the regulation of endometrial cellular homeostasis. Errors in this mechanism can result in endometrial diseases such as hyperplasia and cancer. In this work, apoptosis and its regulation were studied in the human fetal and adult ovary, normal endometrium and endometrial pathologies.

In fetal ovaries, apoptosis was already abundantly present in oocytes at 13 weeks of gestation. The maximum rate of apoptosis was seen between the 14th and 20th weeks, after which apoptosis decreased towards term. Ovarian Bcl-2 expression was detected in early fetal life during weeks 13 and 14. Bax expression was observed throughout the studied period, from week 13 to 40. The expression of transcription factor GATA-4, which is linked to follicular survival, was localised to the granulosa cells and was high in early fetal life and decreased somewhat towards term. In adult life apoptosis was located in the granulosa cells of the growing follicles. In ovarian biopsies from women homozygous for the inactivating C566T mutation of the FSH receptor, apoptosis or GATA-4 expression was not detected. During corpus luteum regression a peak in apoptosis was detected 10 - 12 days after the LH surge, and was preceded by an increase in 17HSD type 1 and TNF-α expression. During normal menstrual cycles, the highest rate of apoptosis was observed in the menstrual endometrium. This increase in apoptosis was preceded by a decreased Bcl-2/Bax ratio. In endometrial hyperplasia, the rate of apoptosis was similar to that seen during normal proliferation of the endometrium, but an apparent increase was observed in grade II endometrial carcinoma. In grade III carcinoma, the rate of apoptosis was lower than in grade II carcinoma but higher than in hyperplasia.

These results indicate that apoptosis is the mechanism behind the substantial oocyte demise during ovarian development. During adult life, apoptosis was mainly localised to the granulosa cells of the growing follicles which do not reach the stage of a dominant follicle. In ovaries where FSH action is abolished, folliculogenesis was impaired and ovarian apoptosis was negligible. Apoptosis is also the underlying mechanism of corpus luteum regression. In the endometrium, apoptosis has a role in rejuvenating the endometrium for growth during the next endometrial cycle and in regulating cellular homeostasis.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-6667-6
ISBN Print: 951-42-6666-8
Issue: 676
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2002. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.