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ovary, ductless gland of the female in which the ova (female reproductive cells) are produced. In vertebrate animals the ovary also secretes the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, which control the development of the sexual organs and the secondary sexual characteristics. The interaction between the gonadotropic hormones from the pituitary gland and the sex hormones from the ovary controls the monthly cycle in humans of ovulation and menstruation. There are two ovaries in the human, held in place on each side of the uterus by a membrane; each ovary is about the size of an almond. About 500,000 immature eggs are present in the cortex of the ovary at birth. Starting at puberty, eggs mature successively, and one breaks through the ovarian wall about every 28 days in the process known as ovulation, which continues until menopause, or cessation of reproductive functioning in the female. After its release from the ovary, the ovum passes into the oviduct (uterine or fallopian tube) and into the uterus. If the ovum is fertilized by the sperm (male reproductive cell), pregnancy ensues (see reproductive system). In flowering plants the part of the pistil containing the ova is called the ovary; the ripened ovary is the fruit.
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A part of the reproductive system of all female vertebrates. Although not vital to individual survival, the ovary is vital to perpetuation of the species. The function of the ovary is to produce the female germ cells or ova, and in some species to elaborate hormones that assist in regulating the reproductive cycle.

The ovaries develop as bilateral structures in all vertebrates, but adult asymmetry is found in certain species of all vertebrates from the elasmobranchs to the mammals.

The ovary of all vertebrates functions in essentially the same manner. However, ovarian histology of the various groups differs considerably. Even such a fundamental element as the ovum exhibits differences in various groups. See Ovum

The mammalian ovary is attached to the dorsal body wall. The free surface of the ovary is covered by a modified peritoneum called the germinal epithelium. Just beneath the germinal epithelium is a layer of fibrous connective tissue. Most of the rest of the ovary is made up of a more cellular and more loosely arranged connective tissue (stroma) in which are embedded the germinal, endocrine, vascular, and nervous elements.

The most obvious ovarian structures are the follicles and the corpora lutea. The smallest, or primary, follicle consists of an oocyte surrounded by a layer of follicle (nurse) cells. Follicular growth results from an increase in oocyte size, multiplication of the follicle cells, and differentiation of the perifollicular stroma to form a fibrocellular envelope called the theca interna. Finally, a fluid-filled antrum develops in the granulosa layer, resulting in a vesicular follicle.

The cells of the theca intema hypertrophy during follicular growth and many capillaries invade the layer, thus forming the endocrine element that is thought to secrete estrogen. The other known endocrine structure is the corpus luteum, which is primarily the product of hypertrophy of the granulosa cells remaining after the follicular wall ruptures to release the ovum. Ingrowths of connective tissue from the theca interna deliver capillaries to vascularize the hypertrophied follicle cells of this new corpus luteum; progesterone is secreted here. See Estrogen, Estrus, Menstruation, Progesterone

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(ovarium), the lower, slightly thickened, hollow part of the pistil in the flowers of angiosperm plants. The cavity of the ovary contains one or several ovules (sometimes many). After fertilization the ovules form seeds (the seeds “set”), and the ovary itself turns into the fruit.



one of the paired female sexual glands in which the eggs form and mature.

The primordial germ cells usually separate very early in the course of individual development from the somatic cells of the embryo and subsequently concentrate in one of the germ layers. The ovaries are formed in the ectoderm or entoderm in coelen-terates and in the mesoderm in all other animal phyla. In invertebrates (sponges, lower coelenterates, and acoelomate ciliated worms) the ovaries are only a temporary mass of sexual cells. In more highly developed animals they are independent organs.

Two main types of ovarian structure are distinguished. In the saccate ovaries of lower worms, echinoderms, arthropods, mollusks, and acraniates the eggs are formed in the internal lining of the organ; some time later they enter the ovarian cavity and are released through ducts. Compact ovaries are composed of internal connective-tissue stroma and an external lining from the germinal epithelium in which the eggs are formed. The mature eggs pass through a break in the ovarian wall into the common body cavity (coelom), from which they are released through oviducts completely independent of the ovaries (in annelid worms among invertebrates and in all vertebrates).

An ovary is usually one of two paired organs in bilaterally symmetrical animals and humans. However, it is sometimes unpaired: one of the ovaries may be reduced, as in gastropods and birds, or the two ovaries may fuse in the course of individual development, as in some arthropods and vertebrates (for example, lampreys and perches).

The ovaries of vertebrates are compact connective tissue bodies into which grow columns of embryonic epithelial cells that cover the ovaries on the outside. The columns of embryonic cells break down into round follicles in which a single egg and several somatic cells arranged around it (follicular cells) develop. The follicles participate in the sustenance of the growing egg and, often, in the formation of the egg membranes as well. The maturing follicle (Graafian follicle in mammals) enlarges and becomes distended by the liquid in its interior. It rises to the surface of the ovary, where it bursts and releases the mature egg. The egg passes through the oviduct, where fertilization occurs, and then enters the uterus. The corpus luteum forms on the surface of the ovary where the follicle burst (seeCORPUS LUTEUM).

In humans the ovaries are situated in the cavity of the lesser, or minor, pelvis (near its lateral walls) on both sides of the uterus, each on the posterior surface of the broad ligament of the uterus. The human ovary is typically 3–4 cm long, 2–2.5 cm wide, and 1–1.5 cm thick. It is connected to the uterus by its own ligament. Blood supply is from the ovarian arteries branching off the abdominal aorta or left renal artery and by branches of the uterine arteries. The ovary is innervated by the celiac, superior mesenteric, and hypogastric plexuses. Sex hormones, mostly estrogens and progesterone, are also formed in the ovaries. Ovarian activity is regulated by the follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones.


Pathology. Salpingoophoritis is the most common ovarian disease. Ovarian apoplexy, or hemorrhage into an ovary, is usually associated with symptoms of acute abdomen. It may occur in any phase of the menstrual cycle but generally during ovulation. A rare occurrence is ovarian pregnancy. Ovarian cysts and benign epithelial tumors (cystomas) are common, but they usually do not interfere with the menstrual function of the ovaries. The most frequent complications of cysts and cystomas are twisting of the pedicle and rupture of the capsule with symptoms of acute abdomen. Endometriosis and malignant tumors may also arise in the ovaries. Ovarian cancer generally develops between the ages of 45 and 55 years, usually as a result of degeneration of a cystoma.

Emergency surgery is indicated in the presence of noninflammatory diseases of the ovaries (cysts, tumors, hemorrhages) accompanied by symptoms of acute abdomen. Preventive gynecological check-ups help in the early detection of an ovarian malignancy.


Rukovodstvo po endokrinologii. Moscow, 1973.
Eskin, I. A. Osnovy fiziologii endokrinnykh zhelez, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A glandular organ that produces hormones and gives rise to ova in female vertebrates.
The enlarged basal portion of a pistil that bears the ovules in angiosperms.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. either of the two female reproductive organs, which produce ova and secrete oestrogen hormones
2. the corresponding organ in vertebrate and invertebrate animals
3. Botany the hollow basal region of a carpel containing one or more ovules. In some plants the carpels are united to form a single compound ovary
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Table III: The average of egg diameter and egg number in per one gram ovarium of A.
The period during which the gonado-somatic index and egg diameter values were maximum, and the egg number in per one gram ovarium was minimum, was considered the beginning of the spawning period for the mature pre-spawning females (Nikolsky, 1963).
Sporisorium ovarium was hitherto only known from Mexico (see type; Duran 1987).
1 mm longi et lati virides, petala oblanceolato - oblonga cucullata 3-4 mm longa viridia, ovarium tricarpellare, triloculare maximam partem, rarissime tetracarpellare, tetraloculare; drupae trivalvatae, rarissime tetravalvatae oblique subsphaericae ad globoso-pyramidales (obovoideae) 4-6.2 mm longae, pyrenae oblique obovoideae 4-4.6 mm longae et 3.5-4.3 mm latae, pseudoarillo rubro-roseo omnino indutae.
Flores feminei 4-meri; calyx lobulis lanceolatis, supra subtusque pilosis; petala incurvata, mucronata; ovarium 2-loculare, glabrum, stigma 2-lobato.
0.1 mm longae (radialiter), 0.1-0.2 mm latae (tangentialiter), leviter concavae, appendices ut videtur ausentes vel rudimentariae; flores staminati 5-8, ovarium glabrum, styli 3, filiformes, ca.
Inflorescentiae laterales, erectae, simplices vel bipartitae; rami masculini cylindrici, 5-46 cm longi, 2-2.5 cm diametro; flores masculini rosei vel magentei, petala et sepala ad basim per 5.5-7 mm connata, limbus petalorum ellipticus, 6-8 mm longus, 3.5-4 mm latus, filamenta laminaria, triangularia vel longe triangularia, 2-5 mm longa, antherae flavae, ellipticae vel oblongae, 1-1.5 mm longae; rami feminei cylindrici, 8-45 cm longi, 2.1-2.5 cm diametro, flores feminei rosei vel magentei, petala elliptica, 8-9 mm longa, 3-5 mm lata; staminodia alba, triangularia, 2-3 mm longa, antheris absentibus, ovarium ovoideum, roseum, 6-10 mm longum, 3-4 mm diametro.