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Like babies, eggs send signals when hungry

Canadian researchers are decoding the secrets of how ova grow and stay fertile

Apr 9, 2018

Montreal – In humans and other mammals, the female reproductive cells – the eggs or oocytes – need nourishment in order to grow and remain fertile. It is known that the egg gets its food from little arm-like feeding tubes (called filopodia) that jut out from tiny cells surrounding the egg and must poke through a thick wall coating the egg in order to feed it. Until recently, scientists did not really understand when and how those feeding tubes were constructed.

Now, a team at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) led by scientist Dr. Hugh Clarke has found out who calls the shots when it is mealtime for the growing egg, how that cell-to-cell message is communicated and how the feeding tubes themselves are generated. It turns out the egg is in charge and its communication skills are highly sophisticated. When it’s time to get food, the egg sends signals to the tiny surrounding cells to make the feeding tubes, and as it grows and needs more nourishment, it signals them to make even more tubes.

These findings, which push the scope of our understanding of female fertility, were published in the April 2 print edition of Current Biology.

The study revealed that growth factors – especially one known as growth differentiation factor 9 – coming from the eggs drove the feeding tube multiplication and growth process, acting directly upon the genetic machinery of the follicle cells surrounding the egg. These discoveries put the spotlight directly on the egg itself, says Dr. Clarke. Learn more