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Drugs. 1999;58 Suppl 1:41-6; discussion 75-82.

Insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome and metformin.

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Clinique Endocrinologique, Hôpital de l'Antiquaille and INSERM U329, France.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common disorder of ovarian function in premenopausal women. PCOS is characterised by chronic anovulation and androgen excess with clinical manifestation of irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism and/or acne. Insulin resistance with resultant hyperinsulinaemia, irrespective of excess weight or frank obesity, has been reported in patients with PCOS, and, as insulin has a direct effect on ovarian androgen production in vitro, insulin resistance may play a crucial role in the physiopathology of PCOS. Although the molecular mechanism(s) of insulin resistance in PCOS is unclear, excessive insulin-independent serine phosphorylation of the beta subunit of the insulin receptor, as reported in some patients with PCOS, has been put forward as a new mechanism for insulin resistance. Insulin-sensitising agents have recently been investigated for their role in the short term treatment of insulin resistance in PCOS. Controlled studies have shown that metformin administration, by promoting bodyweight loss, can decrease fasting and stimulated plasma insulin levels. However, other studies have shown metformin 500 mg 3 times daily to decrease insulin secretion and to reduce ovarian production of 17alpha-hydroxyprogesterone with recovery of spontaneous or clomifene-induced ovulation, independently of weight loss. These findings suggest a new indication for metformin and present insulin-sensitising agents as a novel approach in the treatment of ovarian hyperandrogenism and abnormal ovulation in PCOS. They also suggest that long term administration of metformin might be helpful in treating insulin resistance, thus reducing risks of type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes and cardiovascular disease in these patients.

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