A recent study published in Cell Reports Medicine has revealed that sons of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are at a higher risk of developing obesity. The research was conducted by scientists from Karolinska Institutet, who noted that this highlights a previously unknown risk of passing on PCOS-related health issues through the male side of a family.
PCOS is caused by the ovaries producing an excess of the sex hormone testosterone, and it affects approximately 15% of women of childbearing age globally. It is a condition that can make it difficult for women to become pregnant, and it is linked to various health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, and mental illness. Daughters of women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing the same condition, with a fivefold increase in risk.
While it is not yet known precisely how sons of women with PCOS are impacted, research has suggested that they are more prone to weight and hormone-related issues. To determine how PCOS-like traits are passed from mothers to their sons, the researchers used registry data and mouse models in their study. Over 460,000 sons born in Sweden between 2006 and 2015 were included in the registry study, with roughly 9,000 of them being sons of women with PCOS. The researchers then identified which of the children were obese.
“Our findings indicate that sons of women with PCOS have a threefold increased risk of obesity and high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which raises the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes later in life,” said Elisabet Stener-Victorin, professor at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Karolinska Institutet, who led the study.
These findings were supported by the mouse study, in which the male offspring of female mice were examined. The mice had been fed either a standard diet or a diet high in fat and sugar before and during pregnancy and were exposed to high levels of the male sex hormone dihydrotestosterone during pregnancy to mimic the pregnancy of normal weight individuals and obese women with PCOS. The male mice were then fed a standard diet until adulthood, and their fat distribution and metabolism were studied.
Elisabet Stener-Victorin, who led the study, stated that the male mice used in the research exhibited more fat tissue, larger fat cells, and disordered basal metabolism, despite consuming a healthy diet. To investigate whether physiological characteristics can be inherited from generation to generation, the first-generation male mice were mated with healthy female mice who were not exposed to a diet rich in fat and sugar or male sex hormones.
The same process was repeated in the second generation, leading up to the third generation, which was the first generation not affected by the mother’s condition. Qiaolin Deng, an associate professor at the same department and one of the researchers involved in the study, said that the experiments demonstrated that obesity and high levels of male hormones in a woman during pregnancy could result in long-term health issues in male offspring, including deterioration of their fat tissue function, metabolism, and reproductive function, which could impact future generations.
Stener-Victorin emphasized the significance of these findings, stating that they highlighted the risk of passing health problems down through the male side of a family and could aid in identifying, treating, and preventing reproductive and metabolic diseases early on.
Source: Karolinska Institutet