Paper - The origin of the lutein cells of the corpus luteum

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Shaw W. The origin of the lutein cells of the corpus luteum. (1926) Proc R Soc Med. 19(Obstet Gynaecol Sect): 22-4. PMID 19985092

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This historic 1926 paper by Shaw describes the origin of the lutein cells of the corpus luteum as known at that time. We currently have a much better understanding.

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The Origin of the Lutein Cells of the Corpus Luteum

By Wilfred Shaw, F.R.C.S.

The origin of the lutein cells of the corpus luteum has for long been disputed. The old view of the metaplasia of the cells of the blood-clot found in the cavity of the follicle after ovulation was soon discarded, and at the present time two theories hold the field ; that of von Baer, who attributed the origin of the lutein cells to the theca interna layer, and that of Bischoff, who considered the granulosa cells to be responsible for their origin. The essential difficulty in the solution of this problem for the human corpus luteum has been the scarcity of accurately dated specimens of young forms of the corpus luteum. In addition, even at the present time our knowledge of the normal histology of the ovary is incomplete and much of the work of early observers must be considered inaccurate. For, as Marshall points out, confusion existed between the atretic follicle and the young corpus luteum. In view of the enormous amount of work that has been done on this subject in a variety of different fields, the problem must be considered from a very broad aspect at the present time.

Comparative Morphology

In the rabbit and in the mouse ovulation occurs at a fixed time after copulation. A graduated series of specimens showing corpora lutea at various stages of development can therefore be obtained, a method of deciding the origin of the lutein cells of the corpus luteum thus being afforded. This technique, which is the only reliable one for animal work, was first employed by Sobotta[1], who showed that in the mouse and in the rabbit the lutein cells were derived from the granulosa layer. Later, Marshall [2] confirmed this view as holding good in the case of the sheep.

Histology of the Mature Corrpus Luteum

It was pointed out by van der Stricht[3], who worked with the ovaries of the bat, that in addition to the large lutein cells, another series of cells can be seen. These cells are found at the periphery and in the hila of the convolutions and are much smaller and less numerous than the large lutein cells. Van der Stricht succeeded in demonstrating these cells in the human corpus luteum, and his observations were confirmed by Bihler, Seitz and others. The term paralutein cells has been applied to them by Pinto and American authors. These cells have been found in all specimens of corpora lutea out of some fifty that I have examined, and it seems clear that in the corpus luteum two types of cell are represented. There is no reason to believe that the paralutein cells are early forms of the large lutein cells, so it must be assumed that they have a different origin.

As there is no evidence that the theca externa cells undergo luteinization, it follows that the structure of the mature corpus luteum would lead one to believe that the theca interna cells develop into paralutein cells and that the granulosa cells give rise to the large lutein cells.

Differential Staining

This view is borne out by the results of methods of differential staining. With ordinary stains—particularly with van Gieson’s stain after fixation in absolute alcohol—the two types of cell can be distinguished, but special methods are required to produce a sharp differentiation. It has been shown by Corner[4], and Solomons and Gatenby[5] that osmium tetroxide stains the cells of the theca interna far better than the cells of the lutein layer. It is not necessary to use osmium tetroxide, for Scharlach R, Sudan III and Nile blue sulphate bring out the differentiation very beautifully. These fat reactions depend upon the differences in the fat content of the cells of the two layers at various phases of the menstrual cycle. This is well seen in the corpus luteum during and shortly after menstruation, for at this phase the theca interna or paralutein cells contain fatty acids, while the large lutein cells contain neutral tat. Consequently Nile blue sulphate gives a very beautiful differentiation. Again, in the premenstrual phase, while the large lutein cells do not give a fat reaction, a neutral fat reaction is given by the paralutein cells.

Lastly, with paraffin-embedded sections the two types of cell can be differentiated with: Twort’s neutral red light-green method.[6] This is perhaps the easiest technique to employ. These staining properties of the two layers of cells afford further indirect evidence of their separate origin.

The Study of Early Forms of the Corpus Luteum

The problem of the origin of the large lutein cells of the human corpus luteum would be solved with mathematical accuracy if a reliable series of young specimens of known dates were available. Such specimens are only rarely obtained, and at the present time one can only give the results of investigations of isolated specimens. I have obtained, up to the present, eight specimens of young proliferating corpora lutea—the oldest corresponding to the nineteenth day of the menstrual cycle.

These specimens show the mode of development of the corpus luteum from the follicle after ovulation has occurred. The outstanding feature of the early forms is the hypertrophy of the cells of the granulosa layer. These cells soon attain a great size and because of the denseness of the surrounding stroma they proliferate centripetally. Further, early specimens show the convoluted outline characteristic of the mature corpus luteum. The theca interna cells do not proliferate or hypertrophy beyond the state they have reached when ovulation occurs, and in these early specimens the two layers can easily be identified because of the great difference in size between the two sets of cells.

The study of this series of young corpora lutea quite clearly indicates that the theca interna cells become the paralutein cells of the mature corpus luteum and that the granulosa cells give rise to the large lutein cells.

If the follicle becomes atretic the histological picture is quite different. In this case the granulosa cells atrophy and finally disappear, but the cells of the theca interna layer hypertrophy in an eccentric direction much beyond the size they have attained in the case of a ripe Graafian follicle. Again, another important difference between the young corpus luteum and the atretic follicle is the character of the membrane between the theca interna and granulosa layers. In early forms of the atretic follicle a layer of hyaline material can be seen between them which soon attains a considerable thickness. In the case of the corpus luteum no hyaline tissue is deposited until degeneration of the corpus luteum begins at the time of the menstrual discharge. These differences between the young corpus luteum and the atretic follicle have been emphasized because it is easy to understand that, owing to the hypertrophy of the theca lutein cells in the atretic follicle, this structure may be mistaken for a young corpus luteum unless its true significance is familiar.


  1. Sobotta, Anat. Anz., 1895, x, p. 482.
  2. Marshall, Quart. Journ. Micros. Sc., 1905, xlix, p. 189.
  3. van der Stricht, Bull. Acad. Roy. Belgique, 1901.
  4. Corner, Amer. Journ. Anat., 1919, xxvi, p. 117.
  5. Solomons and Gatrensy, Journ. Obst. d: Gyn., 1924, xxxi, p. 580.
  6. Twort, Journ. State Med., 1924, xxxii, p. 8.

Mr. Victor BONNEY, M.S., read a paper on Myomectomy as the Treatment of Election for Uterine Fibroids, published in full, with illustrations, in The Lancet, November 21, 1925, p. 1060.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2021, July 26) Embryology Paper - The origin of the lutein cells of the corpus luteum. Retrieved from

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