Lanthanum tracer and freeze-fracture electron microscope techniques were used to study junctional complexes between granulosa cells during the differentiation of the rabbit ovarian follicle. For convenience we refer to cells encompassing the oocyte, before antrum and gap junction formation, as follicle cells. After the appearance of an antrum and gap junctions we call the cells granulosa cells. Maculae adherentes are found at the interfaces of oocyte-follicle-granulosa cells throughout folliculogenesis.
Gap junctions are first detected in follicles when the antrum appears. In early antral follicles typical large gap junctions are randomly distributed between granulosa cells. In freeze-fracture replicas, they are characterized by polygonally packed 90-Å particles arranged in rows separated by nonparticulate A-face membrane. A particle-sparse zone surrounds gap junctions and is frequently occupied by small particle aggregates of closely packed intramembranous particles. The gap junctions of granulosa cells appear to increase in size with further differentiation of the follicle. The granulosa cells of large Graafian follicles are adjoined by small and large gap junctions; annular gap junctions are also present. The large gap junctions are rarely surrounded by a particle-free zone on their A-faces, but are further distinguished by particle rows displaying a higher degree of organization.