Characterization of the ovarian preantral follicle population is a necessary step to improve understanding of folliculogenesis and ovarian physiology. Therefore, in the present study, the preantral follicle population in the equine ovary in young and old mares was investigated according to follicular morphology, follicular class, distance from the geometric center using ovarian maps, and follicular density within ovarian portions (lateral vs intermediary) and regions (dorsal vs ventral). Ovaries were collected from an abattoir and histologically processed for evaluation, and the follicle population was calculated. Overall, in the current detailed study, a higher preantral follicle population per mare ovary (mean: 82,206 ± 50,022; range: 1477 to 773,091) than originally reported was identified. Additionally, a mare age effect was observed in the follicle population (young: 152,664 vs old: 11,750) and the spatial distribution of morphologically normal and abnormal follicles and the density and population of follicular classes. These results demonstrate that, in addition to the preantral follicle population in the mare ovary being comparable to that of other species, the location and spatial distribution of these follicles is dynamic and varies depending on mare age and follicle status (i.e. morphology and developmental stage). The characterization of the distribution and population of preantral follicles in the mare ovary provided by this study can potentially aid in improving reproductive studies and assisted reproductive techniques and may expand the understanding of mechanisms involving ovarian plasticity and follicular migration.

LAY SUMMARY: Knowledge of the distribution and population of immature eggs within follicles (preantral follicles) in the ovaries of mares can improve approaches to assisted reproductive techniques and fertility preservation. As the existing research on horse preantral follicle population was focused solely on large follicles, the present study provides an updated investigation of small and large preantral follicles in the mare, showing that the population is similar to those in other species. This study also shows that the way these follicles are distributed in the ovary varies depending on age and follicle characteristics. Results from this study may help to highlight which areas of the mare ovary should be looked at to find samples of good-quality follicles.



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