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Fertil Steril. 1992 Oct;58(4):655-66.

Puberty and polycystic ovarian syndrome: the insulin/insulin-like growth factor I hypothesis.

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  • 1Department of Endocrinology and Reproductive Function, Centre Hospitalier RĂ©gional de Lille, France.



To provide an up-to-date review of studies that have examined the physiological effects of insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) on ovarian growth, maturation, and steroid synthesis, their physiological role in puberty, and their pathophysiological role in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). To deduce from these data a hypothesis, explaining the pathogenetic connections between puberty and PCOS.


The most relevant studies related to this topic have been identified through a computerized bibliographic search (MEDLINE) and through manual scanning of what has been published during recent years in the most important journals in the field of reproductive endocrinology.


Insulin and IGF-I stimulate ovarian growth and potentiate the actions of gonadotropins on ovarian steroid synthesis. Insulin also augments the bioactive concentrations of IGF-I and androgens through regulation of the synthesis of their respective binding proteins insulin-like growth factor-1 binding protein (IGFBP-1) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) in the liver. Insulin and IGF-I might also be able to increase the adrenal sensitivity to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Insulin resistance with compensating hyperinsulinism is a common feature of PCOS. It is also a normal phenomenon during puberty. Polycystic ovarian syndrome often develops during puberty. Ultrasonographic investigations suggest that it is much more common during adolescence than generally assumed. Actually, there is a striking resemblance between the endocrine characteristics of puberty and some forms of PCOS. Both conditions are characterized by insulin resistance, hyperpulsatile gonadotropin secretion, hyperactive ovarian and adrenal androgen synthesis, and decreased levels of IGFBP-1 and SHBG.


We propose the progressively increasing insulin levels and IGF-I activity during puberty as inducing factors in the development of PCOS in susceptible subjects.

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