Study uncovers link between male hormones and metabolic disease in polycystic ovary syndrome

June 22, 2017, University of Birmingham

Scientists from the University of Birmingham have discovered the link between increased male hormones and metabolic complications such as diabetes and fatty liver disease in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, shows that an enzyme that activates in the fat tissue of PCOS women drives their risk to develop other metabolic health complications.

A common condition, believed to affect at least one in ten women in the UK, PCOS has significant impact on the life of affected women.

In addition to irregular periods and often impaired fertility, PCOS women regularly have high levels of male hormones, also termed androgens, circulating in their blood. These are known to cause problems with increased male-pattern body hair growth and acne.

The study has shown, for the first time, that abdominal fat tissue is a major source of increased male hormones in women with PCOS, and that the levels of male hormones within the fat tissue of women with PCOS far exceeds those measured in their blood.

Furthermore, the researchers could show that male hormones are a major driver of metabolic changes that make women with PCOS more prone to develop diabetes and .

Professor Wiebke Arlt, Director of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham, said: "We could show that the enzyme AKR1C3 is much increased in of PCOS women.

"This causes increased activation of male hormones, which we observed to lead to increased build-up of lipid droplets in the fat cells and, eventually, to fatty acid overspill into the circulation.

"This overspill changes how the cells respond to the blood sugar-regulating insulin: become less responsive to insulin, which causes the body to produce more insulin and these increased insulin levels then lead to even higher levels of AKR1C3."

"This vicious circle drives complications like fatty liver disease, which recently have been shown to be more common in women with PCOS."

Dr Michael O'Reilly, also from the University of Birmingham, said: "This study is particularly exciting because it highlights the role that body fat plays in generating excess male hormones in PCOS women, which then act locally to disrupt the ability of the body's fat to store lipid effectively.

"Our research opens up new avenues for treatment of PCOS and the University of Birmingham is now set to test whether blocking the AKR1C3 enzyme will lead to a decrease in in PCOS.

"Finding a new treatment that reduces the risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease in with PCOS would bring relief to millions of patients."

Explore further: Study finds new class of androgens play key role in polycystic ovary syndrome

Related Stories

Study finds new class of androgens play key role in polycystic ovary syndrome

March 14, 2017
Scientists led by the University of Birmingham have discovered that a new class of male sex hormones known as androgens plays a key role in the development of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Measuring new hormone may reduce teenagers wrongly diagnosed with PCOS

September 12, 2016
Measuring blood levels of the recently discovered hormone irisin may improve diagnosis rates of teenagers with polycystic ovary syndrome, according to research presented today at the 55th Annual European Society for Paediatric ...

New test to deduce diabetes risk in polycystic ovary syndrome sufferers

March 24, 2014
Scientists at the University of Birmingham have uncovered a new method to identify and test women with polycystic ovary syndrome who are at high risk of going onto develop diabetes.

Resveratrol can help correct hormone imbalance in women with PCOS

October 18, 2016
Resveratrol—a natural compound found in red wine and grapes—can help address a hormone imbalance in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a leading cause of infertility in women, according to a new study published ...

PCOS affects one in 10 women, may be linked to other serious diseases

January 20, 2015
Despite its name, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) isn't actually a disease of the ovary.

Some women with PCOS may have adrenal disorder, researchers suggest

June 28, 2016
A subgroup of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a leading cause of infertility, may produce excess adrenal hormones, according to an early study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions.

Recommended for you

Human Cell Atlas study reveals maternal immune system modifications in early pregnancy

November 14, 2018
The first Human Cell Atlas study of early pregnancy in humans has shown how the function of the maternal immune system is affected by cells from the developing placenta. Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Newcastle ...

Soy formula feeding during infancy associated with severe menstrual pain in adulthood

November 9, 2018
New research suggests that infant girls fed soy formula are more likely to develop severe menstrual pain as young adults. The finding adds to the growing body of literature that suggests exposure to soy formula during early ...

A major role for a small organ in the immune response during pregnancy

November 9, 2018
The immune system of a pregnant woman is altered during pregnancy, but not in the way previously believed, according to results from a study at Linköping University, Sweden. This study, published in the Journal of Allergy ...

Mailed HPV tests can help find women at-risk for cervical cancer, study finds

November 7, 2018
University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have found that mailing self-collection kits to test for high-risk human papillomavirus infection has the potential to boost cervical cancer ...

Women who give birth to boys much more likely to have postnatal depression

November 6, 2018
A University of Kent study into postnatal depression (PND) found the odds of developing this condition increased by 79% when mothers had baby boys compared to baby girls.

New study takes first step toward treating endometriosis

November 1, 2018
Researchers at Northwestern Medicine have taken the first step in bioengineering the human uterus to treat endometriosis, uterine-factor infertility and endometrial cancer.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.