Epigenetic inheritance of polycystic ovary syndrome - challenges and opportunities for treatment

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2021 Sep;17(9):521-533. doi: 10.1038/s41574-021-00517-x. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the main cause of female infertility worldwide and is associated with a substantially increased lifetime risk of comorbidities, including type 2 diabetes mellitus, psychiatric disorders and gynaecological cancers. Despite its high prevalence (~15%) and substantial economic burden, the aetiology of PCOS remains elusive. The genetic loci linked to PCOS so far account for only ~10% of its heritability, which is estimated at 70%. However, growing evidence suggests that altered epigenetic and developmental programming resulting from hormonal dysregulation of the maternal uterine environment contributes to the pathogenesis of PCOS. Male as well as female relatives of women with PCOS are also at an increased risk of developing PCOS-associated reproductive and metabolic disorders. Although PCOS phenotypes are highly heterogenous, hyperandrogenism is thought to be the principal driver of this condition. Current treatments for PCOS are suboptimal as they can only alleviate some of the symptoms; preventative and targeted treatments are sorely needed. This Review presents an overview of the current understanding of the aetiology of PCOS and focuses on the developmental origin and epigenetic inheritance of this syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heredity
  • Humans
  • Hyperandrogenism / genetics
  • Infertility, Female / genetics
  • Inheritance Patterns / genetics*
  • Male
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / trends
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / genetics*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / therapy
  • Therapies, Investigational / methods
  • Therapies, Investigational / trends