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Ovarian Follicle Depletion Rates Similar in Chimpanzees and Humans

October 29, 2007

Finding suggests that while humans and chimpanzees undergo menopause at similar ages, declining ovarian function has less impact on human aging

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Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709,

ATLANTA – In the first study to be completed as part of the recently awarded National Institute of Aging five-year, $10 million comparative aging grant, Yerkes researchers have found the rate at which ovarian follicles are lost with age is remarkably similar in chimpanzees and humans. This finding supports previous theories suggesting female chimpanzees and humans undergo menopause at a similar age. And, according to lead researcher Lary Walker, PhD, “This study of post-menopausal survival also suggests declining ovarian function has less influence on other aspects of aging in humans.”

Walker and his colleagues studied ovarian tissue samples from 19 chimpanzees ranging in age from three months to 47 years. The number of ovarian follicles in each sample was compared to the number of follicles present in samples from similarly aged human females. The results were nearly identical, indicating similar reproductive aging in chimpanzee females and human females. These findings are published in a recent issue of the Biology of Reproduction.

Because humans generally live much longer after menopause than do chimpanzees, the researchers’ next step is to study hormonal changes in chimpanzees and humans that correspond with menopause. Researchers will attempt to determine how these hormonal changes are related to behavioral changes and other aspects of aging.

For more than seven decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to advancing scientific understanding of primate biology, behavior, veterinary care and conservation, and to improving human health and well-being. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health–funded national primate research centers, provides specialized scientific resources, expertise and training opportunities. Recognized as a multidisci­plinary research institute, the Yerkes Research Center is making life-changing discoveries in the fields of microbiol­ogy and immunology, neuroscience, psychobiol­ogy and sensory-motor systems. Research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease; treat cocaine addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progres­sive illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s; unlock the secrets of memory; determine behavioral effects of hormone replacement therapy; address vision disorders; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.

The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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