An international team of researchers from the Boston University and other institutions has uncovered 13 genetic loci, linked to immune function and DNA repair, that are factors in the age of onset of menopause.
Menopause -- the cessation of reproductive function of the ovaries -- is a major hormonal change that affects most women when they are in their early 50s. Most prior studies of the age of onset of menopause have focused on genes from the estrogen-production pathway or vascular components.
In the new study, published online Jan. 22 in Nature Genetics, the research team identified 13 novel loci associated with menopause onset, while confirming four previously established loci. Most of the 17 loci are associated with genes related to DNA damage repair or auto-immune disease; others are linked to hormonal regulation.
The authors said they expected further research to identify "a substantial number of additional common variants" that impact age of menopause, and that many of them will be located in genes identified in their study. The study examined more than 50,000 women of European descent who had experienced menopause between the ages of 40 and 60.
The research team noted that a large-scale study of menopause onset in African-American women is underway, which will help to determine whether the genetic variations that affect menopause onset in African-American women are similar or substantially different for women of primarily European descent.