Edson, Mark A.; Nagaraja, Ankur K.; Matzuk, Martin M.
Two major functions of the mammalian ovary are the production of germ cells (oocytes), which allow continuation of the species, and the generation of bioactive molecules, primarily steroids (mainly estrogens and progestins) and peptide growth factors, which are critical for ovarian function, regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, and development of secondary sex characteristics. The female germline is created during embryogenesis when the precursors of primordial germ cells differentiate from somatic lineages of the embryo and take a unique route to reach the urogenital ridge. This undifferentiated gonad will differentiate along a female pathway, and the newly formed oocytes will proliferate and subsequently enter meiosis. At this point, the oocyte has two alternative fates: die, a common destiny of millions of oocytes, or be fertilized, a fate of at most approximately 100 oocytes, depending on the species. At every step from germline development and ovary formation to oogenesis and ovarian development and differentiation, there are coordinated interactions of hundreds of proteins and small RNAs. These studies have helped reproductive biologists to understand not only the normal functioning of the ovary but also the pathophysiology and genetics of diseases such as infertility and ovarian cancer. Over the last two decades, parallel progress has been made in the assisted reproductive technology clinic including better hormonal preparations, prenatal genetic testing, and optimal oocyte and embryo analysis and cryopreservation. Clearly, we have learned much about the mammalian ovary and manipulating its most important cargo, the oocyte, since the birth of Louise Brown over 30 yr ago.