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What is a Mullerian Duct?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The Mullerian duct is a duct, or tube, that is present in the human embryo. This duct extends down the sides of the structure known as the urogenital ridge, a structure that later develops to help form the external genitalia, and ends at the Mullerian eminence, a structure that helps form the urinary and genital organs. It is interesting to note that the Mullerian duct only develops fully in females, helping to form the female reproductive system. If the embryo becomes male, these ducts are lost.

While the female embryo is in the developmental stages, there are two separate structures that will develop to assist one another with the formation of the reproductive system. One of these structures is the Mullerian duct itself, and the other is called the urogenital sinus. The urogenital sinus eventually evolves into the bladder as well as helping to form other parts of the urinary and reproductive systems.

The Mullerian duct is present in the embryo of both genders. In females, this pair of ducts will develop into the organs of reproduction. In males, these ducts will disappear. However, the adjoining ducts, known as the Wolffian ducts, will develop and help to form the male reproductive organs.

A chemical known as the anti-Müllerian hormone controls the development of the Mullerian duct by the very presence or absence of this hormone, which is made primarily in the testicles of male embryos. Disturbances in the production of this hormone, and consequently the Mullerian duct, can lead to medical issues, depending on the nature of the disturbance.

Persistent Müllerian duct syndrome is a condition in which the Mullerian duct does not disappear in the male embryo. Instead, a uterus or other derivative of this duct is present. In humans, the most common cause of this syndrome is a genetic disorder or mutation. Surgery to remove the female organs or tissues is generally performed in the hopes of preserving male reproductive capabilities.

Müllerian agenesis is another medical condition that can occur due to abnormalities in the hormones responsible for the development of the Mullerian duct. With this condition, the uterus is missing in the female, and there are usually various types of malformations of the vagina. Surgery is an option in order to allow for comfortable sexual intercourse. However, there is currently no way to allow for fertility in the female with this condition. Counseling is often suggested to those suffering from this disorder.

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Nov 20, 2011

It must be awful to find out you've got Müllerian agenesis. And I believe since a woman who suffers from it will usually have normal hormones, she might not discover it at all until she first tries to get pregnant.

However, while the article is right that without a uterus a woman cannot get pregnant, there are other options. Often the ovaries are intact in such women and they are able to use IVF treatments and become a mother through a surrogate.

Of course, you can always adopt a child as well. But, if you have discovered you have this condition, don't despair. You do have other options.

By croydon — On Nov 20, 2011

@bythewell - I actually just don't think it means very much to say "we were all female once". Aside from the chromosomes, which is the only real gender difference that matters at that early stage, fetuses don't really need to differentiate.

And there's no way of knowing if the mullerian ducts were once used for something in males. There are plenty of vestigial organs that show up in fetuses, like a tail, that were once developed when we hadn't quite evolved to the point where we didn't have tails anymore.

Aside from the fact that it might not be true, I just don't see the point in labeling like that. Gender is overly important to society, and saying that we were all female in the womb just seems like a way to "score points" for woman-kind rather than an observation of any use.

By bythewell — On Nov 19, 2011

I believe the mullerian duct is one of the things that is used as evidence when people suggest that all fetuses are basically female and only the ones with a Y chromosome eventually develop into males.

After all, they have no purpose in male fetuses, and are eventually reabsorbed into the body once the anti mullerian hormone starts around the 9th week, I believe.

The Wolffian duct which becomes the male reproductive organs, also becomes part of the urinary system for females, so it has a purpose for both sexes, while the mullerian duct doesn't.

I think it's only a theory, but it's an interesting one.

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