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Research articles

Hypoandrogenism in association with diminished functional ovarian reserve

Is diminished functional ovarian reserve (DFOR) associated with low androgen levels?

Low androgen levels are associated with DFOR at all ages.

Androgen supplementation via dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has been reported to improve functional ovarian reserve (FOR); pregnancy rates in IVF cycles are associated with how well DHEA converts to testosterone (T); and androgen effects through the androgen receptor have been demonstrated in mice to beneficially affect early stages of follicle maturation.

In a controlled cohort study we investigated consecutive women presenting to our center with two forms of DFOR, premature ovarian aging/occult primary ovarian insufficiency (POA/OPOI) and physiologic diminished ovarian reserve (DOR). As controls for POA/OPOI patients, infertile women with normal age-specific FOR were recruited.

The study involved 140 women with POA/OPOI, defined as age <38 years and abnormally low FOR by age-specific FSH and/or anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), 166 women with DOR, defined as women age >40 years. Forty-nine control patients <38 years demonstrated normal FOR by FSH and/or AMH. In all three patient groups dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA-sulfate (DHEAS), total testosterone (TT) and free testosterone (FT) at the time of initial presentation to our fertility center were assessed. In a small subgroup of women early morning cortisol levels were also assessed. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: DHEAS marginally varied between the three groups (P = 0.04), with older women with DOR actually demonstrating higher levels than controls (P = 0.03). TT differed between the three groups more profoundly (P = 0.005), with women with POA/OPOI demonstrating significantly lower levels than controls (P = 0.009). Adjustment for body mass index, age and race in principle maintained observed differences in TT between groups, while adjustment for FMR1 (fragile X mental retardation 1) genotypes/sub-genotypes eliminated all differences. All three patient groups demonstrated low morning cortisol levels. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: While results support lower androgen levels in women with DOR, and even more so in women with POA/OPOI, presented data should be viewed as preliminary, considering the known variability of androgen levels and the small number of women in whom morning cortisol levels were available. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Especially at young ages DFOR appears associated with significant hypoandrogenism (low T) in comparison with young control patients with normal FOR, raising the question whether this hypoandrogenism originates in adrenals or ovaries. POA/OPOI, thus, phenotypically mimics the polycystic ovary syndrome, where similar questions arise, though in regard to hyperandrogenism.