For decades it was believed that a non-renewable pool of oocyte-containing follicles is established in female mammals at birth. This cornerstone of reproductive biology was challenged 5 years ago by a study reporting on the presence of mitotically-active germ cells in juvenile and adult mouse ovaries. Additional findings presented in this study and others that followed further suggested that mammals retain the capacity to generate oocytes during adulthood; however, isolation of oocyte-producing germline stem cells (GSC) as unequivocal proof of their existence remained elusive. This piece of information now appears to have been provided by Ji Wu and colleagues. In addition to showing that proliferative germ cells resembling male spermatogonial stem cells can be purified from neonatal or adult mouse ovaries and maintained in vitro for months, transplantation studies demonstrated that these cells generate oocytes in ovaries of chemotherapy-sterilized recipients that fertilize and produce viable offspring. Although these findings do not establish that oogenesis occurs in adult females under physiological conditions, they strongly support the existence of GSC in adult mouse ovaries. If equivalent cells can be found in human ovaries, stem cell-based rejuvenation of the oocyte reserve in ovaries on the verge of failure may one day be realized.
- germline stem cell