When does PCOS really begin to develop in women?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects one in five women however it can have life changing effects. Other symptoms include multiple cysts on the ovaries, as well as irregular periods and difficulties becoming pregnant.
PCOS affects as many as five million women of reproductive age in the U.S. Those with the condition have higher than normal levels of male hormones, which can trigger excess hair on the face and body.
Researchers surmise that this could be why it has been so hard to find the specific cause of PCOS, as it was being passed from mother to daughter via hormones while still inside the womb.
This could be a major breakthrough for women with the condition all over the world.
Scientists at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) have discovered that the syndrome can be triggered before birth due to excess exposure in the womb to a hormone known as anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH).
They injected pregnant mice with AMH, and sure enough, the daughters they gave birth to eventually developed symptoms of PCOS.
The excess hormone seemed to overstimulate the set of brain cells that raise up the level of testosterone in mice. These neurons manage the body's testosterone and, therefore, as the female offspring grew, they displayed PCOS symptoms because of high testosterone levels.
Not only were the researchers able to determine the cause of the condition, they even reversed it into mice.
The researchers dosed the polycystic mice with an IVF drug called cetrorelix, which made the symptoms go away.
Robert Norman, a professor of periconceptual medicine at the University of Adelaide in Australia who was not involved in the study, told New Scientist the study presented "a radical new way of thinking about polycystic ovary syndrome and opens up a whole range of opportunities for further investigation".
If the syndrome is indeed passed from mothers to daughters via hormones in the womb, that could explain why it's been so hard to pinpoint any genetic cause of the disorder, says Norman.
They will be planning to trial the drug in humans to take place later this year. "It could be an attractive strategy to restore ovulation and eventually increase the pregnancy rate in these women", says Giacobini.