Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, affects an estimated six to 21 percent of women of childbearing age, 75 percent of whom struggle to get pregnant. Now, scientists have discovered the potential cause of PCOS and a treatment that can help women treat PCOS and restore their fertility.
PCOS is a hormonal condition that occurs when a woman's ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than usual. This causes enlarged ovaries with multiple small cysts, due to the follicles not maturing into eggs. Some of the symptoms include irregular periods, acne, weight gain, excess hair growth on the face, chest, or stomach, problems regulating sugar, and infertility.
Although the cause of PCOS was previously not well-understood, scientists at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research found that it may be triggered by exposure in the womb to a hormone called anti-Müllerian hormone, according to New Scientist. Researchers found that women with PCOS have a 30 percent higher level of the hormone than normal and were curious if the hormonal imbalance transferred to daughters during pregnancy.
To test the theory, researchers injected anti-Müllerian hormone hormone into pregnant mice, and found that as the female offspring got older, they showed many symptoms of PCOS. The scientists believed the excess anti-Müllerian hormone triggered a set of brain cells that raised levels of testosterone.
The researchers then tested using an IVF drug called cetrorelix, which controls a woman's hormones, by injecting the PCOS-affected mice with it. They found the mice no longer showed symptoms of PCOS after being injected with the drug.
The research team is now planning on using cetrorelix to treat women with PCOS in a clinical trial. "It's a radical new way of thinking about polycystic ovary syndrome and opens up a whole range of opportunities for further investigation," said Robert Norman, researcher at the University of Adelaide in Australia, according to New Scientist.
Although the research was done in mice and not humans, it shows a promising step in understanding PCOS and finding a new way to treat this complicated condition.