A recent study by Australian researchers from the University of New South Wales revealed conclusive information that the onset of polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is triggered by a hormonal imbalance at a cerebral level, and not in the ovaries as previously thought.
Their findings, pending corroboration through further studies, could alter the way we deal with this painful condition, which is difficult to diagnose and causes an array of uncomfortable symptoms, ranging from agonizing periods to ovulation problems and ovarian cysts.
According to the National Institutes of Health, polycystic ovary syndrome affects at least one in 10 women all over the world, particularly if obesity or a PCOS family history is involved. Current treatment options target each symptom separately, and include hormone pills prescribed to regulate the menstrual cycle and facilitate ovulation.
In time, PCOS can cause metabolic disorders (such as type 2 diabetes), heart problems, as well as hormonal dysfunction, along with infertility. This painful condition is responsible for more than 75 percent of cases of anovulatory infertility, or infertility due to lack of ovulation.
New PCOS Theory
Until now, the understanding and management of this symptom was cumbered by the scarcity of available information. Nevertheless, Australian researchers believe they may have found an answer, and it relies on androgens, a class of steroid male hormones.
The team studied the reproductive system of mice - chosen due to its analogy with the human one - and discovered PCOS treatment should be exploiting a completely different anatomical angle.
Lab tests revealed that removing androgen receptors or ARs from the brain hinders the development of PCOS, whereas eliminating these receptors at an ovarian level still allows the condition to appear.
"For the first time we have a new direction of where we should be looking to try and develop treatments that will treat the cause of PCOS, the androgen excess in the ovary but also in the brain," explained study lead author Kirsty Walters.
Promising PCOS Study Lab Results
PCOS occurrence was previously linked to a spike in androgen hormones.
To better understand where in the body these hormones act, researchers administered high doses of androgens to four different groups of mice: a cohort genetically altered to have no ARs, another group that possessed no ARs in the brain, a third one with ARs only in the ovaries, and a control group.
Results showed the first two groups didn't develop PCOS, unlike the mice in the control group, whereas the test subjects with ovary ARs still contracted the disease, albeit at a lower rate than the normal mice.
The study suggests cerebral androgen activity is an important factor in the occurrence of PCOS, whose progress could be impeded by curbing the excessive production of these hormones in the brain.
These findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could offer a new course of treatment for this syndrome, provided the results can be replicated in humans.