Alterations in Gut Microbiome Composition and Barrier Function Are Associated with Reproductive and Metabolic Defects in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): A Pilot Study

PLoS One. 2017 Jan 3;12(1):e0168390. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0168390. eCollection 2017.


Background: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common female endocrinopathy of unclear origin characterized by hyperandrogenism, oligo-/anovulation, and ovarian cysts. Women with PCOS frequently display overweight, insulin resistance, and systemic low-grade inflammation. We hypothesized that endotoxemia resulting from a leaky gut is associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, fat accumulation, and hyperandrogenemia in PCOS. In this pilot study, we compared the stool microbiome, gut permeability, and inflammatory status of women with PCOS and healthy controls.

Methods: 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing was performed on stool samples from 24 PCOS patients and 19 healthy controls. Data processing and microbiome analysis were conducted in mothur and QIIME using different relative abundance cut-offs. Gut barrier integrity, endotoxemia, and inflammatory status were evaluated using serum and stool markers and associations with reproductive, metabolic, and anthropometric parameters were investigated.

Results: The stool microbiome of PCOS patients showed a lower diversity and an altered phylogenetic composition compared to controls. We did not observe significant differences in any taxa with a relative abundance>1%. When looking at rare taxa, the relative abundance of bacteria from the phylum Tenericutes, the order ML615J-28 (phylum Tenericutes) and the family S24-7 (phylum Bacteroidetes) was significantly lower and associated with reproductive parameters in PCOS patients. Patients showed alterations in some, but not all markers of gut barrier function and endotoxemia.

Conclusion: Patients with PCOS have a lower diversity and an altered phylogenetic profile in their stool microbiome, which is associated with clinical parameters. Gut barrier dysfunction and endotoxemia were not driving factors in this patient cohort, but may contribute to the clinical phenotype in certain PCOS patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Bacteroidetes / classification
  • Bacteroidetes / isolation & purification
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Pilot Projects
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / metabolism
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / microbiology*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tenericutes / classification
  • Tenericutes / isolation & purification


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S