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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1993 Jul;39(1):35-43.

Premature ovarian failure: autoimmunity and natural history.

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1
Institute of Semeiotica Medica, University of Padua, Italy.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

We studied the association of clinical and latent autoimmune diseases with circulating steroid-producing cells autoantibodies (SCA) in patients with premature ovarian failure (Group I). We investigated the presence of SCA in patients with organ-specific autoimmune diseases but without hypogonadism (Group II). We assessed whether SCA can be considered markers of hypergonadotrophic hypogonadism.

DESIGN:

In Groups I and II blood samples were taken at diagnosis. In a subset of patients with SCA without hypogonadism blood samples were taken at least yearly for 6 years for immunological and functional tests.

PATIENTS:

Group I included 50 females, aged 16-39 years; Group II included 3677 patients, aged 6-79 years, divided into Subgroup IIA (99 with Addison's disease alone or associated with other endocrinopathies or with hypoparathyroidism) and Subgroup IIB (3578 with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or thyroid autoimmune diseases). The follow-up group included nine subjects, aged 5-31 years (seven females and two males).

MEASUREMENTS:

SCA and other organ-specific autoantibodies were detected by standard indirect immunofluorescence using normal human tissues or passive haemagglutination tests. Gonadal functional tests included evaluation of FSH and LH levels by a RIA method; adrenocortical function included evaluation of cortisol and ACTH plasma levels by a RIA method.

RESULTS:

Three subgroups were identified in Group I on the basis of clinical autoimmune disease. 9/50 (18%) patients were found to have an Addison's disease (Subgroup IA) and in this subgroup SCA were present in 7/9 (78%); 10/50 (20%) had other autoimmune diseases (Subgroup IB) and SCA were found in 1/10 (10%); 31/50 (62%) did not have other clinical autoimmune diseases (Subgroup IC) and 1/31 (3%) had SCA. SCA were significantly increased in Subgroup IA vs IB (P = 0.017) and vs IC (P = 0.00002). In Group II, SCA were found in 20/3677 (0.5%); in particular, SCA were detected in 18/99 (18%) of the patients in Subgroup IIA and in 2/3578 (0.06%) of the patients in Subgroup IIB. The frequency of SCA in Subgroup IIA was found to be significantly increased with respect to that found in Subgroup IIB (P = 0.001 x 10(-5)). During follow-up, 3/7 females (42.8%) but 0/2 males developed hypergonadotrophic hypogonadism with a latency period of 10, 13 and 15 years, respectively. Three females and two males lacked clinical Addison's disease at the beginning of the study, but during follow-up 1/3 female and 2/2 males developed clinical Addison's disease with a mean latency period of 13 months.

CONCLUSIONS:

The results confirm the strong relationship between premature ovarian failure and other clinical autoimmune diseases, as well as the strong link existing between primary ovarian failure, Addison's disease and antibodies to steroid-producing cells. The study also suggests that in females antibodies to steroid-producing cells are serological markers of both potential hypergonadotrophic hypogonadism, and Addison's disease; however, in males these antibodies may be considered only as markers of potential Addison's disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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