In order to understand the fine structure and distribution of the interstitial glandular cells (IGCs) and associated elements in the human fetal ovary, we studied human fetal ovaries at 16 weeks post fertilization (p. f.) by transmission electron microscopy. Semithin sections revealed voluminous typical IGCs usually grouped in clusters, located in the interstitium among the ovigerous cords. Isolated primordial follicles were seen in the cords located close to the interstitium in which IGCs were present. Besides the main ultrastructural characteristics of steroid secreting cells, the IGCs showed lipofuscin granules and stacks of annulate lamellae in their cytoplasm. Fibrocytes, macrophages and mast cells were detected close to the IGCs. In particular, the fibrocytes were located around the IGCs, with which they occasionally formed focal cell contacts. Fibrocytes issued numerous long projections, which, together with collagen fibers, surrounded the clusters of IGCs and small vessels (mainly capillaries), often extending into the intercellular spaces among IGCs. These data indicated that, already at the initiation of folliculogenesis, the IGCs are present numerously in a close association with the ovigerous cords. The morphological aspects of IGCs were comparable to that of fetal testis interstitial (Leydig) cells and hilar cells in adult ovary, and suggest that fetal IGCs may be source of adult ovary hilar cells. In addition, we have here demonstrated for the first time that IGCs are associated with stromal cells whose distribution seems to support IGCs microtopography. Fetal ovarian fibrocytes revealed a structural arrangement similar to that of the "compartmentalizing cells" previously described in the adult testis. Macrophages and mast cells presumably have a role as local modulators of steroid synthesis. Mast cells may also affect fibrocyte organization and vascular permeability. We thus suggest that IGCs and associated cells may form a glandular unit in the human fetal ovary similar to that in the adult testis, and this structure is likely involved in early steroid secretion during gonadal differentiation
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