An in vitro superfusion method was used to test sex hormone release from different kinds of ovarian follicle (growing follicles, postovulatory follicles, and atretic follicles) in the lizard Podarcis sicula sicula. Sex hormone output changes with the stage of follicle evolution and sexual cycle. Previtellogenetic follicles prevail in early-spring quiescent ovaries and secrete mainly progesterone, which is probably utilized at that phase to delay ovarian resumption. In the active ovary, progesterone output from previtellogenetic follicles decreases, whereas vitellogenetic follicles produce a significant amount of 17β-estradiol, which is necessary for sustaining vitellogenin synthesis by the liver and oviduct growth. As follicles become ripe, progesterone production is resumed, and it increases in young postovulatory follicles. This is in line with the functions assigned to the hormone at that phase of the sexual cycle, i.e., the induction of oocyte maturation and the regulation of egg retention in the oviduct. Postovulatory follicles can also synthetize 17β-estradiol. After oviposition, this hormone, which is secreted by the old postovulatory follicles, can reinitiate vitellogenin synthesis, allowing the development of a new oocyte set. Our data confirm that active, although ephemeral, corpora lutea are also formed in oviparous species. A limited contribution to ovarian sex steroid production derives also from atretic follicles, at least at the early stages of the breeding cycle.
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