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Endocr Rev. 1987 May;8(2):132-41.

The gonadotropic function of insulin.


We have reviewed the role of insulin in ovarian physiology. Clinical observations and experimental data strongly support the hypothesis that insulin possesses gonadotropic activity, when acting alone or with FSH or LH. This idea is further supported by the recent discovery of insulin in follicular fluid. The idea that insulin has gonadotropic function can explain a variety of clinical observations, which otherwise are difficult to understand. For example, manifestations of ovarian hypofunction (primary amenorrhea, late menarche, anovulation, low pregnancy rate, and early menopause) in IDDM can be understood if it is accepted that insulin is necessary for the ovary to reach its full steroidogenic potential. The idea that insulin affects ovarian steroidogenesis also helps to understand the observation that hyperandrogenism frequently accompanies each of the various insulin-resistant states, regardless of the latter's etiology (e.g. genetic deficiency in the number of insulin receptors, antiinsulin receptor antibodies, obesity, etc.). The explanation for this association is based on the idea that hyperinsulinemia intensifies ovarian steroidogenesis, which manifests clinically as hyperandrogenism. Continuous stimulation of the ovary by insulin over a long period of time possibly produces morphological ovarian changes, such as hyperthecosis or polycystic changes; these changes commonly are observed among women with insulin resistance. The effects of insulin on ovarian cells are mediated possibly through binding of the peptide to its own receptor or to the IGF-1 receptor (the specificity spillover phenomenon). The latter could be an important mechanism in cases of insulin resistance. Potential mechanisms underlying the gonadotropic activity of insulin include direct effects on steroidogenic enzymes, modulation of FSH or LH receptor number, synergism with FSH or LH, or nonspecific enhancement of cell viability. The gonadotropic function of insulin adds yet another note to what has been termed a symphony of insulin action. Further investigation into this new area may yield greater insights not only into normal ovarian physiology, but also into the pathogeneses of such diverse entities as PCO, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and the syndromes of insulin resistance and acanthosis nigricans.

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