Metabolic dysfunction in polycystic ovary syndrome: Pathogenic role of androgen excess and potential therapeutic strategies

Miguel A. Sanchez-Garrido, Manuel Tena-Sempere


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrinopathy among reproductive age women. Although its cardinal manifestations include hyperandrogenism, oligo/anovulation, and/or polycystic ovarian morphology, PCOS women often display also notable metabolic comorbidities. An array of pathogenic mechanisms have been implicated in the etiology of this heterogeneous endocrine disorder; hyperandrogenism at various developmental periods is proposed as a major driver of the metabolic and reproductive perturbations associated with PCOS. However, the current understanding of the pathophysiology of PCOS-associated metabolic disease is incomplete, and therapeutic strategies used to manage this syndrome's metabolic complications remain limited.

Scope of review

This study is a systematic review of the potential etiopathogenic mechanisms of metabolic dysfunction frequently associated with PCOS, with special emphasis on the metabolic impact of androgen excess on different metabolic tissues and the brain. We also briefly summarize the therapeutic approaches currently available to manage metabolic perturbations linked to PCOS, highlighting current weaknesses and future directions.

Major conclusions

Androgen excess plays a prominent role in the development of metabolic disturbances associated with PCOS, with a discernible impact on key peripheral metabolic tissues, including the adipose, liver, pancreas, and muscle, and very prominently the brain, contributing to the constellation of metabolic complications of PCOS, from obesity to insulin resistance. However, the current understanding of the pathogenic roles of hyperandrogenism in metabolic dysfunction of PCOS and the underlying mechanisms remain largely incomplete. In addition, the development of more efficient, even personalized therapeutic strategies for the metabolic management of PCOS patients persists as an unmet need that will certainly benefit from a better comprehension of the molecular basis of this heterogeneous syndrome.