Genetic factors influence age at natural menopause


LONDON (Reuters Health) – Women with a family history of early menopause have an increased risk of experiencing early menopause, according to a report in the September issue of Human Reproduction.

"The increasing age at which women become pregnant with their first child is one of the most remarkable demographic changes in the last 30 to 40 years," lead investigator Dr. Jan-Peter de Bruin, of the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, noted in a statement released by the journal.

"If our hypothesis is correct then it would be sensible for a woman to make herself aware of the age at which her female relatives have reached menopause: if she wants a family it could help her decide whether it is wise to postpone motherhood."

Dr. de Bruin and colleagues collected data from a population-based sample of 243 non-twin sisters, 22 non-identical twin sisters and 37 identical twin sisters who had experienced natural menopause. The team used three analytical models to estimate heritability of menopausal age.

"All produced almost identical heritability estimates of 0.85 to 0.87 for singleton sisters, suggesting a strong genetic contribution to menopausal age," the team reports. A heritability of between 0.71 and 0.72 was estimated for twins, which did not differ significantly from the estimate for singleton sisters.

The researchers infer that a woman with at least one first-degree relative with a history of early menopause is likely to experience early menopause herself and thus early reproductive failure.

Based on these results, the investigators say, "further research into defining the number, identity and genetic variation of the genes which determine variation in age of menopause by appropriate genome analyses" should be encouraged. "There is a distinct possibility that the same genes which determine variation in the age of menopause also regulate the rate and age at which women become infertile prior to menopause," they note.

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