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Genetic research suggests men can develop polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms

29 March 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1089

Men carrying genetic risk factors for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely to develop diabetes, obesity and male-pattern baldness. 

PCOS is a common disorder that can cause infertility and affects up to 10 percent of women of reproductive age. The main symptoms include irregular or missing menstrual periods and metabolic disruptions. High testosterone levels, associated with PCOS, can also lead to cardiovascular complications, obesity and type two diabetes. New genetic evidence presented at the virtual Endocrine Society's annual meeting suggests that PCOS might not be entirely linked to ovaries and men can develop a PCOS-like condition, too. 

'The treatment of PCOS is limited by our incomplete understanding of the disorder,' said lead researcher Dr Jia Zhu, clinical fellow at the Boston Children's Hospital, Massachusetts. 'Identifying the different causes for PCOS provides insights into the mechanisms of disease and is the first step in identifying future targets for treatment of the disorder.'

Researchers developed a polygenetic risk score algorithm to predict PCOS in women by analysing the genetic data of 206,851 women of European ancestry in the UK Biobank. They then used this algorithm to analyse genetic data from 176,360 men taken from the UK Biobank. The 20 percent of men with the highest genetic risk scores for PCOS also had an increased genetic risk of obesity (17 percent), type 2 diabetes (15 percent), cardiovascular disease (5 percent) and male-pattern baldness (5 percent). 

These results indicate that perhaps some of the biological mechanisms leading to PCOS do not act primarily through the ovaries, but rather through common pathways found in both women and men. Future studies should look at what these common mechanisms might be. 

'It is still too early to change the general public health screening guidelines to identify cardiovascular and metabolic diseases based on this study. However, the study does point out the importance of PCOS in female family members on male family members' health,' Dr Anis Rehman, research scientist at Southern Illinois University, who was not involved in the study told Inverse.

The preliminary findings need to be confirmed in further large-scale studies and peer-reviewed. 

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