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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Female Physiology Before Pregnancy and Female Hormones

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Physiologic Anatomy of the Female Sexual Organs

Physiologic Anatomy of the Female Sexual Organs
Reproduction begins with the development of ova in the ovaries.

Physiologic Anatomy of the Female Sexual Organs

Figures 81–1 and 81–2 show the principal organs of the human female reproductive tract, the most important of which are the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina. Reproduction begins with the development of ova in the ovaries. In the middle of each monthly sexual cycle, a single ovum is expelled from an ovarian follicle into the abdominal cavity near the open fimbriated ends of the two fallopian tubes. This ovum then passes through one of the fallopian tubes into the uterus; if it has been fertilized by a sperm, it implants in the uterus, where it develops into a fetus, a placenta, and fetal membranes—and eventually into a baby.


        During fetal life, the outer surface of the ovary is covered by a germinal epithe-lium, which embryologically is derived from the epithelium of the germinal ridges.As the female fetus develops, primordial ova differentiate from this germinal epithe-lium and migrate into the substance of the ovarian cortex. Each ovum then collects around it a layer of spindle cells from the ovarian stroma(the supporting tissue of the ovary) and causes them to take on epithelioid characteristics; they are then called granulosa cells. The ovum surrounded by a single layer of granulosa cells is called a primordial follicle. The ovum itself at this stage is still immature, requiring two more cell divisions before it can be fertilized by a sperm. At this time, the ovum is called a primary oocyte.


        During all the reproductive years of adult life, between about 13 and 46 years of age, 400 to 500 of the primordial follicles develop enough to expel their ova—one each month; the remainder degenerate (become atretic). At the end of reproductive capability (at menopause), only a few primordial follicles remain in the ovaries, and even these degenerate soon thereafter.


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