May 15 (UPI) -- The leading cause of infertility in women, called polycystic ovary syndrome, may develop while still in the womb, according to a study of the condition with mice.
Researchers at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research have found the condition may be caused by a fetus being overexposed to a hormone known as anti-Mullerian, or AMH. Their findings were published Monday in Nature Medicine.
PCOS affects up to 20 percent of reproductive-age women worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Women with the condition have higher than normal levels of male hormones, which can trigger excess hair on the face and body, as well multiple cysts on the ovaries, irregular periods and difficulties becoming pregnant.
Treatment options, including hormonal medication, are limited and can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even infertility.
"These findings highlight a critical role for excess prenatal AMH exposure and subsequent aberrant GnRH receptor signaling in the neuroendocrine dysfunctions of PCOS, while offering a new potential therapeutic avenue to treat the condition during adulthood," the researchers wrote.
The researchers measured hormone level of pregnant mice with and without PCOS looking to find if high levels of AMH during pregnancy could spark the condition in fetuses.
Pregnant mice received high levels of AMH, and researchers found they developed symptoms of PCOS, including irregular menstruation, fertility issues and late puberty. These excess levels of AMH spurred brain cells in the fetus to produce too much testosterone.
Researchers reversed the symptoms of PCOS in the mice by using the IVF drug cetrorelix.
"It could be an attractive strategy to restore ovulation and eventually increase the pregnancy rate in these women," Dr. Paolo Giacobini, lead author of the study, told New Scientist.
Calling it a new method for approaching PCOS, researchers said they hope to begin drug trials by the end of this year.