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Open Access Research article

Gene bionetworks that regulate ovarian primordial follicle assembly

Eric Nilsson1, Bin Zhang2 and Michael K Skinner1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Reproductive Biology, School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4236, USA

2 Department of Genetics & Genomic Sciences, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:496  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-496

Published: 23 July 2013



Primordial follicle assembly is the process by which ovarian primordial follicles are formed. During follicle assembly oocyte nests break down and a layer of pre-granulosa cells surrounds individual oocytes to form primordial follicles. The pool of primordial follicles formed is the source of oocytes for ovulation during a female’s reproductive life.


The current study utilized a systems approach to detect all genes that are differentially expressed in response to seven different growth factor and hormone treatments known to influence (increase or decrease) primordial follicle assembly in a neonatal rat ovary culture system. One novel factor, basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF2), was experimentally determined to inhibit follicle assembly. The different growth factor and hormone treatments were all found to affect similar physiological pathways, but each treatment affected a unique set of differentially expressed genes (signature gene set). A gene bionetwork analysis identified gene modules of coordinately expressed interconnected genes and it was found that different gene modules appear to accomplish distinct tasks during primordial follicle assembly. Predictions of physiological pathways important to follicle assembly were validated using ovary culture experiments in which ERK1/2 (MAPK1) activity was increased.


A number of the highly interconnected genes in these gene networks have previously been linked to primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) and polycystic ovarian disease syndrome (PCOS). Observations have identified novel factors and gene networks that regulate primordial follicle assembly. This systems biology approach has helped elucidate the molecular control of primordial follicle assembly and provided potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of ovarian disease.

Ovary; Primordial follicle; Assembly; Ovarian development; PCO; POI; Transcriptome; Female fertility; Genomics; System biology