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Luteal Phase of the Ovarian Cycle

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  • 0:05 The Ovarian Cycle
  • 1:11 Corpus Luteum
  • 3:23 Corpus Albicans
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Each month, the ovaries recruit and mature a subset of oocytes in preparation for ovulation. Learn what happens after ovulation occurs in the second phase of the ovarian cycle, known as the luteal phase.

The Ovarian Cycle

The ovarian cycle is split in half by ovulation, which is the release of the mature oocyte
Ovulation Release Mature Oocyte

You may remember from other lessons that the female's body goes through monthly cycles, including a monthly ovarian cycle, which, as the name suggests, takes place in the ovaries. The purpose of the monthly ovarian cycle is to recruit and mature oocytes each month, preparing them for fertilization. It's split into two halves, with ovulation, or the release of the mature oocyte (egg), marking the transition between the two phases. First, the follicular phase, also called the pre-ovulatory phase, refers to the parts of the cycle that occur before ovulation. As the name suggests, it focuses mainly on the growth and development of the oocyte, while the second half, the luteal phase, also called the post-ovulatory phase, begins immediately after ovulation and no longer involves the oocyte. This part of the phase focuses on what happens to the follicle after the oocyte (egg) has been released.

Corpus Luteum

You see, once the oocyte ovulates, everything left in the follicle begins to break down, forming a structure called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is formed from the empty tertiary follicle. Without the oocyte inside, the follicle wall starts to collapse. The thecal and granulosa cells, which previously made up the follicle wall, now invade the empty space in the middle of the follicle as it begins to break down. These cells were previously responsible for helping to nourish and protect the oocyte as it matured.

You can think of this structure kind of like scar tissue in the ovary. Ovulation causes a rupture, or a break, in the follicle wall. First, the ovary repairs this by increasing blood flow and by increasing cell replication. These actions form a kind of scar tissue in the form of the corpus luteum, and then over time, this tissue will begin to break down. The corpus luteum is now the main source of the steroid hormone progesterone. This is important because without progesterone, a female cannot maintain pregnancy. So the formation of the corpus luteum is essential in preparing the female for pregnancy. Progesterone from the corpus luteum travels to the female's uterus, and here it prepares the uterine wall for the potential implantation of a fertilized oocyte (egg).

Progesterone travels from the corpus luteum to the uterus to prepare it for implantation
Progesterone Prepares Uterine Wall

You may remember that our oocyte from the follicular phase is no longer in the ovary during the luteal phase. That doesn't mean it's disappeared; it's merely moved on. To be more precise, it's currently traveling down the uterine tubes on its way to the uterus, with high hopes of meeting up with a male sperm and becoming fertilized. So the uterus has to prepare itself because if the oocyte is fertilized, it needs somewhere to develop into a fetus and then into a baby. That somewhere is the uterus. So the job of progesterone made by the corpus luteum is to prepare the uterus for the possibility of caring for a developing fetus.

Corpus Albicans

You see, everything in the reproductive tract works together - cool, right? But what if fertilization doesn't occur? What then? Well, then the oocyte simply degenerates and never reaches the uterus. I know; I know. So what about progesterone? Well, if the oocyte doesn't reach the uterus, then progesterone is no longer needed, and the corpus luteum is no longer needed either. When that happens, we move on to the second stage of the luteal phase: the formation of the corpus albicans.

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