STUDY QUESTION Is the Janus kinase and signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK-STAT) signalling pathway involved in ovarian follicle development and primordial follicle activation? SUMMARY ANSWER JAK1 is a key factor involved in the regulation of primordial follicle activation and maintenance of the ovarian reserve. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY A series of integrated, intrinsic signalling pathways (including PI3K/AKT, mTOR and KITL) are responsible for regulating the ovarian reserve of non-growing primordial follicles and ultimately female fertility. The JAK-STAT signal transduction pathway is highly conserved with established roles in cell division and differentiation. Key pathway members (specifically JAK1, STAT3 and SOCS4) have been previously implicated in early follicle development. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION A laboratory animal study was undertaken using the C57Bl/6 inbred mouse strain as a model for human ovarian follicle development. To determine which Jak genes were most abundantly expressed during primordial follicle activation, mRNA expression was analysed across a developmental time-course, with ovaries collected from female mice at post-natal days 1 (PND1), 4 (PND4), 8 (PND8), as well as at 6 weeks (6WK) and 7 months (7MTH) (n ≥ 4). Functional analysis of JAK1 was performed on PND2 mouse ovaries subjected to in vitro explant culture treated with 12.5 μM Ruxolitinib (JAK inhibitor) or vehicle control (DMSO) for 48 h prior to histological assessment (n ≥ 4). PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS The expression and localization of the JAK family during ovarian follicle development in the C57Bl/6 inbred mouse strain were evaluated using quantitative PCR, immunoblotting and immunolocalisation. Functional studies were undertaken using the JAK inhibitor Ruxolitinib to investigate the underpinning cellular mechanisms via biochemical in vitro inhibition and histological assessment of intact neonate ovaries. All experiments were replicated at least three times using tissue from different mice unless otherwise stated. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE Jak1 is the predominant Jak mRNA expressed in the C57Bl/6 mouse ovary across all developmental time-points assessed (P ≤ 0.05). Forty-eight hour inhibition of JAK1 with Ruxolitinib of PND2 ovaries in vitro demonstrated concomitant acceleration of primordial follicle activation and apoptosis (P ≤ 0.001) and upregulation of downstream JAK-STAT pathway members STAT3 and suppressors of cytokine signalling 4 (SOCS4). LARGE-SCALE DATA N/A. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION Results are shown in one species, the C57Bl/6 mouse strain as an established model of human ovary development. Ruxolitinib also inhibits JAK2, with decreased efficacy. However, Jak2 mRNA had limited expression in the mouse ovary, particularly at the neonatal stages of follicle development, thus any effect of Ruxolitinib on primordial follicle activation was unlikely to be mediated via this isoform. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS This study supports a key role for JAK1 in the maintenance and activation of primordial follicles, with potential for targeting the JAK-STAT pathway as a method of regulating the ovarian reserve and female fertility. STUDY FUNDING AND COMPETING INTEREST(S) This project has been funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (G1600095) and The Hunter Medical Research Institute Bob and Terry Kennedy Children's Research Project Grant in Pregnancy & Reproduction (G1501433). All authors declare no conflict of interests.