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Thursday, 30 November, 2000, 01:12 GMT
Premature menopause 'gene found'
Teenage girls
Teenage girls can go through a premature menopause
Scientists have identified a gene responsible for causing premature menopause.


If there were indications that they were at risk of premature menopause they may want to rethink their reproductive plans

Dr Andrew Shelling
Research author
The condition, also known as premature ovarian failure (POF), affects 1% of all women.

Researchers from New Zealand believe the errors in the inhibin alpha gene are responsible.

The University of Auckland team say the findings could lead to the development of a genetic test, which would allow women with a family history of the condition to know if they are at risk.

Gene mutation

Researchers analysed DNA from women who had experienced POF, which can lead to loss of fertility and side effects such as osteoporosis.

They found the inhibin alpha gene was mutated in three out of 43 (7%) of the women they studied, compared with only one out of 150 in an ethnically matched control group.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Shelling, from Auckland's National Women's Hospital, said the findings could lead to changes in women's reproductive habits.

"As women in developed countries delay motherhood into their 30s, it may even be that one day women in their early 20s could take a genetic test to confirm that they weren't at risk of premature menopause.

"If there were indications that they were at risk of premature menopause, they may want to rethink their reproductive plans. But that is highly speculative for now," he said.

Further research

"The three women with the mutant gene had relatively severe symptoms of POF with their menstrual periods ceasing at the ages of 16, 20 and 24 respectively."

Researchers say it could mean the gene is responsible for a quarter of premature menopause in under-25s.


If a future test could pin-point when it was going to happen, women would be able to time their child-bearing around that

Monique Francis, The Daisy Network
Dr Ingrid Winship, another member of the research team, said a test could inform women with a family history - who make up between 10% and 30% of cases - if they were at risk.

"If the mutation is found in a family with a history of premature menopause, screening younger women members would provide valuable information to help them plan their families."

Monique Francis, from the Daisy Network in the UK, which supports women who have been through a premature menopause, said the discovery could help women who have no idea why they suffered a premature menopause.

"A lot feel very isolated because they don't know why their bodies have let them down. If a future test could pin-point when it was going to happen, women would be able to time their child-bearing around that".

Mr Joseph Darne, consultant gynaecologist at Derby City General Hospital, said: "In the long-run, it might well be that we will start to do genetic investigations earlier rather than later in the management of patients who seem to be heading towards the diagnosis of POF."

The research is published in the Human Reproduction journal.

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See also:

02 Oct 00 | Health
Fertility hope for cancer women
23 Sep 99 | Medical notes
Ovary grafting
23 Sep 99 | Medical notes
Menopause
29 Jun 00 | Europe
Work on new menopause pill
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