A new understanding, guided by single-cell sequencing, of the establishment and maintenance of the ovarian reserve in mammals


BACKGROUND: Oocytes are a finite and non-renewable resource that are maintained in primordial follicle structures. The ovarian reserve is the totality of primordial follicles, present from birth, within the ovary and its establishment, size, and maintenance dictates the duration of the female reproductive lifespan. Understanding the cellular and molecular dynamics relevant to the establishment and maintenance of the reserve provides the first steps necessary for modulating both individual human and animal reproductive health as well as population dynamics. SUMMARY: This review details the key stages of establishment and maintenance of the ovarian reserve, encompassing germ cell nest formation, germ cell nest breakdown, and primordial follicle formation and activation. Furthermore, we spotlight several formative single-cell sequencing studies that have significantly advanced our knowledge of novel molecular regulators of the ovarian reserve, which may improve our ability to modulate female reproductive lifespans. KEY MESSAGES: The application of single-cell sequencing to studies of ovarian development in mammals, especially when leveraging genetic and environmental models, offers significant insights into fertility and its regulation. Moreover, comparative studies looking at key stages in the development of the ovarian reserve across species has the potential to impact not just human fertility, but also conservation biology, invasive species management, and agriculture.

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