Research articles

DHEA supplementation may improve IVF outcome in poor responders: a proposed mechanism

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation for poor responders may improve ovarian response and IVF treatment outcome. This study aimed to determine the mechanism of action of DHEA, and specifically, the stage of folliculogenesis influenced by DHEA.

This is a prospective, self-controlled study of poor responders to IVF treatment, comparing day 3 biochemical (anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH), inhibin B and FSH) and ultrasound (antral follicle count (AFC)) ovarian reserve markers and IVF treatment outcome before and after DHEA supplementation of at least 3 months duration.

Thirty-two women were included. Following DHEA, there was a significant increase in AFC (P=0.0003) without significant changes in the baseline biochemical parameters AMH, inhibin B, or FSH. The enhanced response comprised increased peak estradiol levels (P=0.0005), number of follicles >15 mm, oocytes, MII oocytes and embryos (P=0.004, P=0.00001, P=0.0004 and P=0.0006, respectively) and oocytes number/total FSH dose (P=0.0009). The proportion of cancelled cycles due to very poor response decreased significantly (P=0.02).

DHEA does not appear to exert influence via recruitment of pre-antral or very small antral follicles (no change in AMH and inhibin B) but rather by rescue from atresia of small antral follicles (increased AFC).