Hormone discovery marks breakthough in understanding fertility

December 12, 2017 by Jane Icke, University of Nottingham
Hormone discovery marks breakthough in understanding fertility
Credit: University of Nottingham

Scientists at The University of Nottingham have shown, for the first time, that a naturally occurring hormone plays a vital part in regulating a woman's fertility, a discovery that could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of infertility.

Research by Associate Professor Ravinder Anand-Ivell, Professor Richard Ivell and Yanzhenzi Dai in the School of Biosciences has been published in the online journal Frontiers in Physiology. It has revealed that an insulin-like peptide INSL3 made within the ovary plays an essential role in orchestrating and coordinating the growth and development of ovarian follicles and the eggs contained in them.

Associate Professor Anand-Ivell led the study and said: "This research is breaking new ground in the understanding of and reveals that this hormone plays a crucial role in the fertility of women. Previously the role of this hormone has been fairly unknown especially after birth, with studies focusing on its function in the male fetus.

While it has long been known that ovarian , such as estrogens play an important part in the reproductive process, this new work shows that INSL3 is just as important in regulating a woman's fertility."

Crucial role

Theca cell INSL3 is made in small amounts in the ovaries of women of reproductive age and plays a crucial role in the ability of the follicles containing the egg cells to make and regulate steroid hormones, particularly androgens.

A significant finding of this study is that some of these so-called androgens then act within the ovary predominantly like an estrogen and work together with the pituitary hormones to create a feedforward loop effect promoting the healthy growth and development of follicles.

Professor Anand-Ivell continues: "Having a more in depth understanding of female fertility will pave the way for better treatment and diagnosis of infertility and we have had feedback from clinicians who are very excited about what this research represents in terms of the future of fertility treatment. For example, this new evidence suggests that INSL3 could be involved in the hormone imbalance associated with , which affects a very large number of women of reproductive age."

Translational research

Professor Ivell and Associate Professor Anand-Ivell began looking at INSL3 more than 15 years ago as a hormone produced by the testes of adult men and animals and since then they have published several important pieces of research, each providing a better understanding of the role this hormone plays in the reproductive system and elsewhere.

The present research was carried out using ovarian tissue from cows as one of the best model systems to study human female fertility, and with relevance to pregnancy in all mammals.

Professor Anand-Ivell added: "Infertility affects so many areas of society, in humans the cost is very much social and emotional, but in livestock species there is a very real economic cost to breeding problems. Studying INSL3 in such depth is getting us ever closer to understanding the root causes of infertility. So far, pharmacological approaches in fertility and contraception have been targeting the ancient hormone systems, such as the gonadotropins or steroid hormones. By targeting newer hormone systems like INSL3 we may be better and more specifically able to address the special mammalian aspects of reproductive physiology."

Explore further: Male fetal hormone could influence the making of woman as well as man

More information: Yanzhenzi Dai et al. Theca Cell INSL3 and Steroids Together Orchestrate the Growing Bovine Antral Follicle, Frontiers in Physiology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2017.01033

Related Stories

Male fetal hormone could influence the making of woman as well as man

April 1, 2016
Scientists at The University of Nottingham have shown, for the first time, that a naturally occurring hormone which plays a major role in the development of the male fetus can, in the early stages of pregnancy, transfer into ...

Biomarkers indicating diminished reserve of eggs not associated with reduced fertility

October 10, 2017
Tests that estimate ovarian reserve, or the number of a woman's remaining eggs, before menopause, do not appear to predict short-term chances of conception, according to a National Institutes of Health-funded study of women ...

New insight into role of male hormones in fertility and polycystic ovary syndrome

April 3, 2017
Research led by University of Birmingham scientists in collaboration with Northwestern University in Chicago, US, has provided fresh insight into the role of male hormone in supporting and disrupting the production of eggs ...

Vitamin D may be key for pregnant women with polycystic ovary syndrome

November 6, 2017
Vitamin D may play a key role in helping some women seeking treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)-related infertility get pregnant. PCOS is a hormonal disorder affecting 5 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age. ...

A newly discovered hormone makes ovaries grow

May 30, 2013
A newly discovered hormone produced by the eggs of human females may improve the effectiveness of current fertility treatments for women and possibly lead to entirely new treatments altogether. According to new research published ...

Recommended for you

Though most prolapse surgeries regress over time, symptoms remain improved

April 17, 2018
An estimated one in three women in the U.S. has a pelvic floor disorder, a condition that often develops after bearing children and getting older. These disorders can lead to incontinence, painful intercourse and even the ...

Painkillers in pregnancy may affect baby's future fertility

April 16, 2018
Taking painkillers during pregnancy could affect the fertility of the unborn child in later life, research suggests.

Mom's marijuana winds up in breast milk

April 10, 2018
(HealthDay)—Breast-feeding has known benefits for both baby and mom, but if a new mom also smokes marijuana, does the drug turn up in her breast milk?

Like babies, eggs send signals when 'hungry'

April 9, 2018
In humans and other mammals, the female reproductive cells - the eggs or oocytes - need nourishment in order to grow and remain fertile. It is known that the egg gets its food from little arm-like feeding tubes (called filopodia) ...

New clues to restoring fertility in women with disabling ovary disorder

April 9, 2018
Groundbreaking research out of the University of Otago is showing potential to restore fertility in women suffering polycystic ovary syndrome.

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.