Genetic insights into the biological mechanisms governing human ovarian ageing

Reproductive longevity is critical for fertility and impacts healthy ageing in women, yet insights into the underlying biological mechanisms and treatments to preserve it are limited. Here, we identify 290 genetic determinants of ovarian ageing, assessed using normal variation in age at natural menopause (ANM) in ~200,000 women of European ancestry. These common alleles influence clinical extremes of ANM; women in the top 1% of genetic susceptibility have an equivalent risk of premature ovarian insufficiency to those carrying monogenic FMR1 premutations. Identified loci implicate a broad range of DNA damage response (DDR) processes and include loss-of-function variants in key DDR genes. Integration with experimental models demonstrates that these DDR processes act across the life-course to shape the ovarian reserve and its rate of depletion. Furthermore, we demonstrate that experimental manipulation of DDR pathways highlighted by human genetics increase fertility and extend reproductive life in mice. Causal inference analyses using the identified genetic variants indicates that extending reproductive life in women improves bone health and reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, but increases risks of hormone-sensitive cancers. These findings provide insight into the mechanisms governing ovarian ageing, when they act across the life-course, and how they might be targeted by therapeutic approaches to extend fertility and prevent disease.
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