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The hen as a model of ovarian cancer

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Abstract

The domestic laying hen is the only non-human animal that spontaneously develops ovarian cancer with a high prevalence. Hens ovulate prolifically, and this has made the hen intuitively appealing as a model of this disease in light of epidemiological evidence that ovulation rate is highly correlated with the risk of human ovarian cancer. As in women, ovarian cancer in the hen is age-related and it is also grossly and histologically similar to that in humans. In both women and hens, the cancer metastasizes to similar tissues with an accumulation of ascites fluid. Some aggressive ovarian cancers in women arise from cells in the oviduct; this is intriguing because ovarian cancers in the hen express an oviductal protein that is normally absent in the ovary.

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Figure 1: Reproductive tract of a woman compared with the hen reproductive tract.
Figure 2: Hen ovarian tumours.
Figure 3: Subtypes of hen ovarian tumours.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to L. Treviño and M. E. Urick for their intellectual contributions to this project. They also thank the workers at the Cornell University poultry farm for care of the hens.

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Correspondence to Patricia A. Johnson.

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Glossary

Ascites

An abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen; in the case of ovarian cancer, the fluid often contains free-floating cancer cells that can implant throughout the abdominal cavity.

Corpus luteum

Ovarian structure in mammals that develops from the follicular remnants after ovulation. The corpus luteum characteristically secretes progesterone and is essential for pregnancy.

Inclusion cysts

Fluid-filled structures lined by a single-cell layer of epithelial-like cells. The cysts are found close to the ovarian surface and the cells lining the cavity are thought to be epithelial cells from the ovarian surface that have been trapped deeper inside the ovary during the process of ovulation.

Lactational amennorhea

The normal infertility that occurs after childbirth when a woman is not menstruating and is breastfeeding an infant.

Oviparous

Laying of an egg in which embryonic development occurs outside the body of the mother.

Seasonally anestrous

A period of ovarian inactivity (with no developing follicles), as determined by length of day and thus occurring in certain seasons.

Theca externa layer

The most external cellular layer of the follicle. It is vascularized and produces steroid hormones.

Yolk receptor

A specific receptor on the surface of the avian oocyte that binds the major components of yolk (very low density lipoprotein and vitellogenin) allowing the incorporation of the yolk into the developing oocyte.

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Johnson, P., Giles, J. The hen as a model of ovarian cancer. Nat Rev Cancer 13, 432–436 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrc3535

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