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Histology Study Guide
Female Reproductive System

[Male System]


The female tract begins with the paired ovaries, leads through the windings of the fallopian tubes (oviducts) to the uterus, and then opens through the cervix into the vagina.  Special structures, the placenta and the umbilical cord, develop during pregnancy.  The mammary glands are conventionally included in discussions of the female reproductive system, because they contribute to the same reproductive function and respond to the same set of hormonal signals as the tract proper.

Several structures in the female reproductive system are especially notable because they are effectively temporary organs, which undergo substantial changes over the course of the monthly menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.  Thus it is especially important to coordinate study of this system's histology with study of reproductive (including endocrine) physiology.


The ovary is an organ in which many oocyte-containing follicles are embedded in an extensive cellular stroma.  This stroma is peculiar, unlike other connective tissues of the body.

The follicles undergo various changes associated with the menstrual cycle, ovulation, hormone production, and pregnancy.

The fallopian tubes use ciliated cells on the surface of an elaborately folded mucosa to transport egg cells from the ovary to the uterus.

Fertilization normally occurs during passage through the fallopian tube.

The uterus has an extremely thick muscular wall, the myometrium, and a thick mucosa, the endometrium with tubular glands lined by simple columnar epithelium.  The endometrium undergoes extensive changes during the menstrual cycle.

The cervix and vagina represent the distal portion of the reproductive tract, lined by stratified squamous epithelium.

Surface samples of cervical epithelium (Pap smears) are used to screen for cervical cancer (see WebPath).

The placenta is an organ best understood as a specialized outgrowth of baby's body, connected by the umbilical cord.  In some ways, the placenta functions as an invasive parasite on mother's uterine tissues.

Within the placenta, baby's circulation remains closed, contained within vessels of the chorionic villi.  In contrast, mother's placental circulation is open, percolating through intervillous spaces.

The mammary gland is a compound alveolar gland embedded in substantial fibrous and adipose stroma, with multiple ducts to the nipple.

The high incidence and mortality of breast cancer (as well as common mistakes in diagnosis) give special clinical significance to this organ.

Comments and questions:

SIUC / School of Medicine / Anatomy / David King
Last updated:  9 May 2022 / dgk