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The Female Reproductive System: Ovaries, Fallopian Tubes, Uterus, Vagina, Practice Problems and FAQs

We came to this world, through our mother. Why?

In humans, females are capable of giving birth. 

pregnant women

Always we wondered, how is it possible for a woman to carry a baby? 

Answers lead to the specialities of the reproductive system. 

The organs that are used in reproduction and giving birth to young ones is known as the female reproductive system. 

Let’s take a deep dive into the female reproductive system. 

The female reproductive system is divided into two types of organs: one that are involved in reproduction and are called primary sex organs. Other that are not involved in reproduction and are considered as secondary sex organs.

ALSO READ: Male reproductive system

Primary Sex Organs or Gonads

The internal female reproductive organs are considered as the primary sex organs. These organs are involved in reproduction. It consists of four organs:

  • Ovaries
  • Oviducts
  • Uterus
  • Vagina
     

ALSO READ: Differences between male and female puberty

Ovaries

A pair of ovary

They are the paired structures and are considered the primary sex organs of human females. They are situated in the upper part of the pelvic cavity. They produce female gametes called ova. Ovaries also secrete female sex hormones. Each ovary has a point from where blood vessels and nerves enter and exit and this point is known as the hilum

Ligaments

Ligaments support and hold the female reproductive organs in place within the pelvis. There are three types of ligaments in females as follows:

  • Broad ligament - It is a peritoneal layer that is associated with the uterus and ovaries.
  • Uterine ligament - It is primarily associated with the uterus.
  • Ovarian ligament - It is mainly associated with the ovaries.

Apart from these ligaments, there are supporting ligaments that support the female reproductive system in the pelvic cavity. These are as follows;

  • Broad ligament - It is a part of the parietal peritoneum.
  • Mesovarium - It is a double-layered fold of peritoneum that connects the broad ligament to the ovaries.
  • Ovarian ligament - It attaches the ovaries to the uterus.
  • Suspensory ligament - It attaches the ovary to the pelvic wall.

Layers of Ovary

Ovary is composed of three layers as follows:

  • Germinal epithelium - Each ovary is surrounded by a cuboidal germinal epithelium.
  • Tunica albuginea - It is a layer of connective tissue present beneath the epithelium.
  • Ovarian stroma - Inside tunica albuginea, ovarian stroma is present that encloses two zones. 
    • Peripheral cortex - It is a region present inner to the tunica albuginea. It is made up of ovarian follicles surrounded by dense irregular connective tissue with collagen fibres and stromal cells, which are fibroblast-like cells.
    • Inner medulla - It is a region present inner to the ovarian cortex. The border line between the cortex and medulla is indistinct. Lymphatic vessels, nerves and blood vessels are present in the medulla. It is made up of more loosely structured connective tissue.

    Layers of ovary

    Functions of ovary

    The ovary is involved in two types of functions. These are gametogenic functions (the production of gametes) and endocrine functions (the production of hormones).

    Fallopian Tubes

    They are also called oviducts or uterine tubes. They extend from the periphery of each ovary to the uterus. It connects the ovary to the uterus. They have paired structures. Each oviduct is about 10 -12cm long. The oviducts are located between the folds of the broad ligaments of the uterus. 

    Structure of Fallopian Tube

    The fallopian tube is divided into four parts:

    • Fimbriae - It is a fringe of finger-like projections that are present at the terminal part of the ovary. It collects ova from the ovary.
    • Infundibulum - It is located close to the ovary and is funnel-shaped. 
    • Ampulla - It is the widest and longest lumen of the oviduct. It constitutes about 2/3rd of the length.
    • Isthmus - It connects the uterus with the oviduct and is a small, narrow, thick-walled section.

    structure of oviduct

    Layers of Fallopian Tube

    Fallopian tubes are composed of three layers that are enlisted below:

    • Mucosa - It is the inner layer of the fallopian tube that consists of epithelium and lamina propria. The epithelium contains ciliated and non-ciliated cells. The ciliated cells are simple columnar cells that help to move a fertilised ovum. The non-ciliated cells are also termed as peg cells. They have microvilli. The peg cells secrete a fluid that provides nutrition to the ovum.
    • Muscularis - It is made up of a large, circular inner ring of smooth muscle and a thin, longitudinal smooth muscle region. It shows peristaltic and ciliary movements that help the fertilised ovum to move towards the uterus.
    • Serosa - The outer layer of the fallopian tube is serous membrane i.e. serosa.

    Functions of Fallopian Tube

    Some of the functions of oviduct are enlisted below:

    • It helps in the transportation of sperm.
    • Fimbriae collects secondary oocytes.
    • It allows the movement of secondary oocytes from ovary to the uterus.
    • It provides a site for fertilisation.
    • It transports the embryo from the site of fertilisation to the uterus.

    Uterus

    The uterus is a hollow and muscular organ that is pear-shaped. It is present in the pelvic cavity and situated between the urinary bladder and rectum. It is supported by ligaments attached to the pelvic wall. Uterus is also known as hystera or womb. In females who have never been pregnant, the uterus is about 7.5 cm long, 5cm wide and 2.5 cm thick. It is larger in pregnant women and smaller (atrophied) when sex hormone levels are low as in menopause.

    uterus

    Structure of Uterus

    The structure of uterus is described by dividing it into four parts that are described below:

    • Fundus - It is the upper and dome-shaped part of the uterus. It lies above the opening of fallopian tubes.
    • Cornua - They are the upper corners of the uterus from which the fallopian tubes open into the uterus.
    • Body - It is the main part of the uterus.
    • Cervix - It is a narrow connecting link between the uterus and the vagina. The lumen of the cervix is referred to as the cervical canal that forms part of the birth canal.

    structure of uterus

    Histology: Layers of Uterus

    The uterus is composed of three layers that depict its histology. These three layers are described below:

    • Perimetrium or serosa - It is the outermost thin layer of the uterus which is made up of simple squamous epithelium and areolar connective tissue. 

    perimetrium

    • Myometrium - It is the middle layer of the uterus. It consists of three layers of smooth muscle fibres. These smooth fibres are thickest in the fundus and thinnest in the cervix. During labor and childbirth, coordinated contractions of myometrium helps to expel the fetus from the uterus.

    myometrium

    • Endometrium - The innermost and highly vascularised layer of the uterus is endometrium. This layer is rich in glands and undergoes periodic cyclic changes which is referred to as menstrual cycle. 

    Endometrium is divided into two sublayers as follows:

    • Stratum functionalis - It lines the uterine cavity and sheds off during menstrual cycle.
    • Stratum basalis - It is a permanent layer and forms new cells of stratum functionalis after each menstrual cycle.

    Endometrium has three components as follows: 

    • The innermost layer of endometrium is a simple columnar epithelium that has secretory and ciliated cells.
    • Endometrial stroma
    • Endometrial or uterine glands

    endometrium

    Functions of Uterus

    The uterus perform the following functions:

    • It provides the pathway for the sperms that are deposited in the vagina to reach the fallopian tubes where fertilisation will take place.
    • It is the site of implantation of blastocyst, development of the foetus during pregnancy and labor.
    • The uterus is the source of menstrual flow when implantation does not occur.
    • It protects and provides nourishment to the embryo.
    • The uterus protects sperm from phagocytes.
    • It plays a key role in capacitation.

    Blood Supply in Uterus

    The uterus is supplied with blood by uterine arteries, which are branches of the internal iliac artery. Arcuate arteries (bow-shaped) branch off from uterine arteries are arranged in a circular pattern in the myometrium. Arcuate arteries are further branched into radial arteries that penetrate deeply into the myometrium. These branches before entering the endometrium branched off into two types of arterioles. These are the straight arteriole and spiral arteriole.

    Blood supply of uterus

    Vagina

    Vagina is a tubular structure which is about 10 cm long. It has a fibromuscular canal lined with a mucous membrane. It extends from the exterior of the body to the uterine cervix.

    vagina

    Functions of Vagina

    Vagina is a stretchable or extendable structure. It can accommodate the penis during intercourse. It receives the sperms. It forms an outlet for menstrual flow. Vagina forms the birth canal along with the cervix.

    vagina is stretchable

    Histology: Layers of Vagina

    Vagina is composed of three layers as follows:

    • Mucosa - This layer is a continuous layer with the mucosal layer of the uterus. It is composed of non-keratinised stratified squamous epithelium and areolar connective tissue. 
    • Muscularis - It is composed of an outer circular layer and inner longitudinal layer. 
    • Adventitia - This layer is rich in collagen and elastic fibres to provide structural support to the vagina.

    Practice Problems of Female Reproductive System

    Ques:- Identify the correct sequence of uterine layers from outside to inside.

    A. Perimetrium, Myometrium, Endometrium
    B. Myometrium, Endometrium, Perimetrium
    C. Endometrium, Perimetrium, Myometrium
    D. Perimetrium, Endometrium, Myometrium

    Solution: If a person is studying the uterine walls from outside to inside, the correct sequence will be: perimetrium, myometrium and endometrium. Hence, the correct option is a.

    Ques:- Determine the layer of ovary from the following given layers.

    A. Muscularis
    B. Germinal epithelium
    C. Myometrium
    D. Serosa

    Solution: Germinal epithelium is the outer layer of an ovary. It is surrounded by cuboidal germinal epithelial cells. Hence, the correct option is b.

    Ques:- Recognise the different parts of the fallopian tube in the given figure.

    name

    Solution: The given figure represents the structure of the fallopian tube. 

    • ‘A’ represents the isthmus which is a narrow tube and connects the uterus with the fallopian tube.
    • ‘B’ represents the ampulla which is characterised as the widest and longest lumen of the fallopian tube.
    • ‘C’ represents the infundibulum which is a funnel-shaped structure and is located close to the ovary.
    • ‘D’ represents the fimbriae. They are numerous finger-like projections that collect the secondary oocyte from the ovary.

    Ques:- Which of the following layers sheds off during the menstrual cycle?

    A. Muscularis
    B. Germinal epithelium
    C. Endometrium
    D. Tunica albuginea

    Solution: Endometrium is the innermost layer of the uterus. It sheds off during each menstrual flow. Hence, the correct option is c.

    FAQs of Female Reproductive System

    Ques:- Which ligaments support and hold the female reproductive organs within the pelvic cavity?

    Solution: The various ligaments that support and hold the female reproductive organs in place within the pelvic cavity are enlisted below:

    • Broad ligament - It is a peritoneal layer that is associated with the uterus and ovaries.
    • Uterine ligament - It is primarily associated with the uterus.
    • Ovarian ligament - It is mainly associated with the ovaries.
    • Suspensory ligament - It attaches the ovary to the pelvic wall.

    Ques:- What are the two main functions of the fallopian tube?

    Solution: The fallopian tube is primarily involved in the transportation of sperms and also provide site for fertilisation

    Ques:-Define hilum?

    Solution: Hilum is the point in each ovary from where blood vessels and nerves enter and exit the ovary.

    Ques:- Which organ is responsible for implantation of blastocyst?

    Solution: The uterus is a hollow and muscular organ that provides a site for the implantation of blastocyst. Therefore, it is also referred to as womb or hystera.

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