Ovulation is the appropriately timed release of a mature, developmentally competent oocyte from the ovary into the oviduct, where fertilization occurs. Importantly, ovulation is tightly linked with oocyte maturation, demonstrating the interdependency of these two parallel processes, both essential for female fertility. Initiated by pituitary gonadotropins, the ovulatory process is mediated by intrafollicular paracrine factors from the theca, mural, and cumulus granulosa cells, as well as the oocyte itself. The result is the induction of cumulus expansion, proteolysis, angiogenesis, inflammation, and smooth muscle contraction, which are each required for follicular rupture. These complex intercellular communication networks and the essential ovulatory genes have been well defined in mouse models and are highly conserved in primates, including humans. Importantly, recent discoveries in regulation of ovulation highlight new areas of investigation.
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