Background: Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is characterized by marked heterogeneity, but with a significant genetic contribution. Identifying exact causative genes has been challenging, with many discoveries not replicated. It is timely to take stock of the field, outlining the progress made, framing the controversies and anticipating future directions in elucidating the genetics of POI.
Methods: A search for original articles published up to May 2015 was performed using PubMed and Google Scholar, identifying studies on the genetic etiology of POI. Studies were included if chromosomal analysis, candidate gene screening and a genome-wide study were conducted. Articles identified were restricted to English language full-text papers.
Results: Chromosomal abnormalities have long been recognized as a frequent cause of POI, with a currently estimated prevalence of 10-13%. Using the traditional karyotype methodology, monosomy X, mosaicism, X chromosome deletions and rearrangements, X-autosome translocations, and isochromosomes have been detected. Based on candidate gene studies, single gene perturbations unequivocally having a deleterious effect in at least one population include Bone morphogenetic protein 15 (BMP15), Progesterone receptor membrane component 1 (PGRMC1), and Fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) premutation on the X chromosome; Growth differentiation factor 9 (GDF9), Folliculogenesis specific bHLH transcription factor (FIGLA), Newborn ovary homeobox gene (NOBOX), Nuclear receptor subfamily 5, group A, member 1 (NR5A1) and Nanos homolog 3 (NANOS3) seem likely as well, but mostly being found in no more than 1-2% of a single population studied. Whole genome approaches have utilized genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to reveal loci not predicted on the basis of a candidate gene, but it remains difficult to locate causative genes and susceptible loci were not always replicated. Cytogenomic methods (array CGH) have identified other regions of interest but studies have not shown consistent results, the resolution of arrays has varied and replication is uncommon. Whole-exome sequencing in non-syndromic POI kindreds has only recently begun, revealing mutations in the Stromal antigen 3 (STAG3), Synaptonemal complex central element 1 (SYCE1), minichromosome maintenance complex component 8 and 9 (MCM8, MCM9) and ATP-dependent DNA helicase homolog (HFM1) genes. Given the slow progress in candidate-gene analysis and relatively small sample sizes available for GWAS, family-based whole exome and whole genome sequencing appear to be the most promising approaches for detecting potential genes responsible for POI.
Conclusion: Taken together, the cytogenetic, cytogenomic (array CGH) and exome sequencing approaches have revealed a genetic causation in ∼20-25% of POI cases. Uncovering the remainder of the causative genes will be facilitated not only by whole genome approaches involving larger cohorts in multiple populations but also incorporating environmental exposures and exploring signaling pathways in intragenic and intergenic regions that point to perturbations in regulatory genes and networks.
Keywords: chromosomal abnormality; gene mutation; genome-wide association studies; next generation sequencing; premature ovarian failure; primary ovarian insufficiency; whole-exome sequencing.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.