Hirsutism is a common medical complaint among women of reproductive age, and it affects the majority of women with the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Increased rate of androgen production and its availability in tissue represent the main pathophysiological mechanisms responsible for hirsutism. In addition, androgens may be generated de novo in the hair follicle; therefore, circulating androgen levels do not quantify the real exposure of the hair follicle to androgens, as a quota is locally generated. Hirsutism is a clinical sign and not a disease in itself; its presence does not therefore necessarily require treatment, particularly in mild-to-moderate forms, and when an affected woman does not worry about it. Physicians should decide whether hirsutism is to be treated or not by evaluating not only the severity of the phenomenon but also the subjective perception of the patient, which does not necessarily correspond to the true extent of hair growth. In any case, a physician should manage a woman with hirsutism only on the basis of a diagnosis of the underlying cause, and after a clear explanation of the efficacy of each therapeutic choice. Cosmetic procedures and pharmacological intervention are commonly used in the treatment of hirsutism and are discussed in this paper. Importantly, there are different phenotypes of women with hirsutism and PCOS that may require specific attention in the choice of treatment. In particular, when obesity is present, lifestyle intervention should be always considered, and if necessary combined with pharmacotherapy.
Renato Pasquali and Alessandra Gambineri
Renato Pasquali and Alessandra Gambineri
Insulin-sensitizing agents have been recently proposed as the therapy of choice for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), since insulin resistance and associated hyperinsulinemia are recognized as important pathogenetic factors of the syndrome. Moreover, since almost all obese PCOS women and more than half of those of normal weight are insulin resistant, and therefore present some degree of hyperinsulinemia, the use of insulin sensitizers should be suggested in most patients with PCOS. Insulin sensitizer treatment has been associated with a reduction in serum androgen levels and gonadotropins, and with an improvement in serum lipids and in prothrombotic factor plasminogen-activator inhibitor type 1, whatever the insulin sensitizer used. This therapy has also been associated with a decrease in hirsutism and acne, and with a regulation of menses and an improvement of ovulation and fertility. Notable improvements in all these parameters have also been described after a change in lifestyle approach, particularly in the presence of obesity. Lifestyle interventions should therefore be combined with insulin sensitizers in PCOS when obesity is present.
Renato Pasquali, Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, and Alessandra Gambineri
PCOS is a clinical heterogeneous entity of female androgen excess diagnosed by exclusion of other disorders responsible for androgen excess. The concept of secondary PCOS implies that there is a primary well-defined cause leading to the PCOS phenotype with underlying androgen overproduction, regardless of the origin. In these cases, we presume the term of ‘secondary PCOS’ could be used. In all these conditions, the potential complete recovery of the hyperandrogenemic state as well as the remission of the PCOS phenotype should follow the removal of the cause. If accepted, these concepts could help clinicians to perform in-depth investigations of the potential factors or disorders responsible for the development of these specific forms of secondary PCOS. Additionally, this could contribute to develop further research on factors and mechanisms involved in the development of the classic and the nonclassic PCOS phenotypes.
Alessandra Gambineri, Flaminia Fanelli, Federica Tomassoni, Alessandra Munarini, Uberto Pagotto, Ruth Andrew, Brian R Walker, and Renato Pasquali
Abnormal cortisol metabolism in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has been invoked as a cause of secondary activation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and hence androgen excess. However, this is based on urinary excretion of cortisol metabolites, which cannot detect tissue-specific changes in metabolism and may be confounded by obesity.
To assess cortisol clearance and whole-body and tissue-specific activities of 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1 (HSD11B1)) in PCOS.
A total of 20 overweight–obese unmedicated Caucasian women with PCOS, aged 18–45 years, and 20 Caucasian controls matched for age, BMI, body fat distribution, and HSD11B1 genotypes (rs846910 and rs12086634).
Main outcome measures
Cortisol metabolites were measured in 24 h urine. During steady-state 9,11,12,12-[2H]4-cortisol infusion, cortisol clearance was calculated and whole-body HSD11B1 activity was assessed as the rate of appearance of 9,12,12-2H3-cortisol (d3-cortisol). Hepatic HSD11B1 activity was quantified as the generation of plasma cortisol following an oral dose of cortisone. Subcutaneous adipose HSD11B1 activity and HSD11B1 mRNA were measured, ex vivo, in biopsies.
Urinary cortisol metabolite excretion, deuterated cortisol clearance, and the rate of appearance of d3-cortisol did not differ between patients with PCOS and controls. However, hepatic HSD11B1 conversion of oral cortisone to cortisol was impaired (P<0.05), whereas subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue HSD11B1 mRNA levels and activity were increased (P<0.05) in women with PCOS when compared with controls.
Tissue-specific dysregulation of HSD11B1 is a feature of PCOS, over and above obesity, whereas increased clearance of cortisol may result from obesity rather than PCOS.
Renato Pasquali, Alessandra Gambineri, Carla Cavazza, Daniela Ibarra Gasparini, Walter Ciampaglia, Graciela Estela Cognigni, and Uberto Pagotto
Treatment of obesity improves all features of the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). There is, however, a heterogeneous response to weight loss, and predictive factors are unknown.
This follow-up study aimed to investigate obese women with PCOS treated with a long-term lifestyle program to evaluate responsiveness and predictability.
One hundred PCOS women meeting the criteria for selection were invited to participate and 65 of them agreed. Lifestyle intervention had consisted of a 1200–1400 kcal/day diet for 6 months, followed by mild calorie restriction and physical activity. The protocol, which was similar at baseline and follow-up, included anthropometry, clinical evaluation, pelvic ultrasound, and laboratory investigations. The mean follow-up period was 20.4±12.5 months.
After the follow-up period, women were reclassified into three groups according to the persistence (group 1, 15.4%), partial (group 2, 47.7%), or complete (group 3, 36.9%) disappearance of the categorical features of PCOS (hyperandrogenism, menses, and ovulatory dysfunctions). Duration of the follow-up and extent of weight loss were similar among the three groups, as were fasting and glucose-stimulated insulin and indices of insulin resistance. Baseline waist circumference, waist to hip ratio (WHR), and androstenedione blood levels were negatively correlated with a better outcome in the univariate analysis. However, only basal androstenedione values persisted to a highly significant extent (P<0.001) in the multivariate analysis.
Responsiveness to weight loss in overweight/obese PCOS women varies considerably and more than one third of women may achieve full recovery. These findings add new perspectives to the impact of obesity on the pathophysiology of PCOS.
Alessandra Gambineri, Federica Tomassoni, Alessandra Munarini, Roland H Stimson, Roberto Mioni, Uberto Pagotto, Karen E Chapman, Ruth Andrew, Vilma Mantovani, Renato Pasquali, and Brian R Walker
Regeneration of cortisol by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11β-HSD1) within liver and adipose tissue may be of pathophysiological importance in obesity and the metabolic syndrome. single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in HSD11B1, the gene encoding 11β-HSD1, have been associated with type 2 diabetes and hypertension in population-based cohort studies, and with hyperandrogenism in patients with the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, the functional consequences of these SNPs for in vivo 11β-HSD1 expression and activity are unknown.
We explored associations of well-characterised hormonal and metabolic phenotypes with two common SNPs (rs846910 and rs12086634) in HSD11B1 in 600 women (300 with PCOS) and investigated 11β-HSD1 expression and activity in a nested study of 40 women from this cohort.
HSD11B1 genotypes (as single SNPs and as the combination of the two minor allele SNPs) were not associated with PCOS. Women who were heterozygous for rs846910 A and homozygous for rs12086634 T (GA, TT genotype) had a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, regardless of the diagnosis of PCOS (odds ratio in the whole cohort=2.77 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.16–6.67), P=0.023). In the nested cohort, women with the GA, TT genotype had higher HSD11B1 mRNA levels in adipose tissue, and higher rates of appearance of cortisol and d3-cortisol (16.1±0.7 nmol/min versus 12.1±1.1, P=0.044) during 9,11,12,12-2H4-cortisol (d4-cortisol) steady-state infusion.
We conclude that, in a population of Southern European Caucasian women with and without PCOS, alleles of HSD11B1 containing the two SNPs rs846910 A and rs12086634 T confer increased 11β-HSD1 expression and activity, which associates with the metabolic syndrome.
Marco Mezzullo, Alessandra Gambineri, Guido Di Dalmazi, Alessia Fazzini, Matteo Magagnoli, Margherita Baccini, Valentina Vicennati, Carla Pelusi, Uberto Pagotto, and Flaminia Fanelli
Objective. To investigate the impact of age, obesity and metabolic parameters on thirteen circulating steroids in reproductive and menopausal age. To define reference intervals (RI).
Methods. 325 drug-free, healthy and eumenorrheic women were selected from the general population. Independent relationships of LC-MS/MS-determined steroid levels with age, body mass index (BMI) and metabolic parameters were estimated. Reference sub-cohorts were defined for calculating upper and lower limits in reproductive age, menstrual phases and menopause, and these were compared with limits in dysmetabolic sub-cohorts.
Results. Lower androgens, pro-androgens and estrogens, but higher cortisol and metabolites were found in menopausal compared to reproductive age women. Androgens and precursors decreased during reproductive age (P<0.001–P=0.002) but not after menopause. 17OH-progesterone decreased with BMI (P=0.006) and glucocorticoids with waist circumference (P<0.001–P=0.002) in reproductive age, but increased with triglycerides (P=0.011-P=0.038) after menopause. Inverse associations of dihydrotestosterone with BMI (P=0.004) and HDL-cholesterol (P=0.010), estrone with total cholesterol (P=0.033) and estradiol with triglycerides (P=0.011) were found in reproductive age. After menopause, estrone increased with waist circumference (P<0.001) and decreased with insulin resistance (P=0.012). Ovarian steroid RI were estimated in menstrual phases and menopause. Age- and reproductive status-specific RI were generated for androgens, precursors and corticosteroids. Lower limits for reproductive age cortisol (P=0.020) and menopausal 11-deoxycortisol (P=0.003) in dysmetabolic sub-cohorts were reduced and increased, respectively, compared to reference limits.
Conclusions: Obesity and dysmetabolism differently influence circulating steroids in reproductive and menopausal status. Age, menstrual and menopausal status-specific RI were provided by LC-MS/MS for a broad steroid panel.
Gerard Conway, Didier Dewailly, Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Hector F Escobar-Morreale, Steven Franks, Alessandra Gambineri, Fahrettin Kelestimur, Djuro Macut, Dragan Micic, Renato Pasquali, Marija Pfeifer, Duarte Pignatelli, Michel Pugeat, and Bulent O Yildiz
There is evidence for differences between endocrinologists and other specialists in their approach to diagnosis and management of the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
A mailed survey consisting of a simple questionnaire aiming to understand current practice for diagnosis and management of the PCOS by specialists across Europe.
The questionnaire consisted of 23 questions grouped to achieve information on i) the general characteristics of the respondents, ii) patients with PCOS seen by endocrinologists, iii) the main diagnostic criteria, iv) biochemical parameters used in the differential diagnosis of hyperandrogenism, v) long-term concerns, and, finally vi) treatment choices. A total of 357 questionnaires representing 13.3% of the members of European Society of Endocrinology (ESE) were available for final analysis; 93% of the respondents were endocrinologists
In relation to the diagnostic criteria, respondents were most likely to select menstrual irregularity as the most frequent criteria used for the diagnosis of PCOS although very high rates were achieved for the use of hirsutism and biochemical hyperandrogenism. It therefore appears that the NIH criteria were followed by the majority of respondents. The most frequent biochemical parameters in the differential diagnosis of hyperandrogenism were total testosterone or free androgen index. Obesity and type 2 diabetes were regarded as the principal long-term concerns for PCOS. The most common treatments for patients with PCOS were metformin (33%), lifestyle modification (25%), and oral contraceptives (22%). More direct treatments of infertility include clomiphene citrate alone or in combination with metformin, prescribed by 9 and 23%, respectively, whereas only 6% used other methods for induction of ovulation.
The survey produced by ESE is a good start for evaluating the perspective in the diagnosis and treatment of PCOS by endocrinologists in Europe.
Gerard Conway, Didier Dewailly, Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Héctor F Escobar-Morreale, Stephen Franks, Alessandra Gambineri, Fahrettin Kelestimur, Djuro Macut, Dragan Micic, Renato Pasquali, Marija Pfeifer, Duarte Pignatelli, Michel Pugeat, and Bulent O Yildiz
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common ovarian disorder associated with androgen excess in women, which justifies the growing interest of endocrinologists. Great efforts have been made in the last 2 decades to define the syndrome. The presence of three different definitions for the diagnosis of PCOS reflects the phenotypic heterogeneity of the syndrome. Major criteria are required for the diagnosis, which in turn identifies different phenotypes according to the combination of different criteria. In addition, the relevant impact of metabolic issues, specifically insulin resistance and obesity, on the pathogenesis of PCOS, and the susceptibility to develop earlier than expected glucose intolerance states, including type 2 diabetes, has supported the notion that these aspects should be considered when defining the PCOS phenotype and planning potential therapeutic strategies in an affected subject. This paper offers a critical endocrine and European perspective on the debate on the definition of PCOS and summarises all major aspects related to aetiological factors, including early life events, potentially involved in the development of the disorder. Diagnostic tools of PCOS are also discussed, with emphasis on the laboratory evaluation of androgens and other potential biomarkers of ovarian and metabolic dysfunctions. We have also paid specific attention to the role of obesity, sleep disorders and neuropsychological aspects of PCOS and on the relevant pathogenetic aspects of cardiovascular risk factors. In addition, we have discussed how to target treatment choices based according to the phenotype and individual patient's needs. Finally, we have suggested potential areas of translational and clinical research for the future with specific emphasis on hormonal and metabolic aspects of PCOS.