Linking stress and infertility: A novel role for Ghrelin

Luba Sominsky, Deborah M. Hodgson, Eileen A. McLaughlin, Roger Smith, Hannah M. Wall, Sarah J. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Infertility affects a remarkable one in four couples in developing countries. Psychological stress is a ubiquitous facet of life, and although stress affects us all at some point, prolonged or unmanageable stress may become harmful for some individuals, negatively impacting on their health, including fertility. For instance, women who struggle to conceive are twice as likely to suffer from emotional distress than fertile women. Assisted reproductive technology treatments place an additional physical, emotional, and financial burden of stress, particularly on women, who are often exposed to invasive techniques associated with treatment. Stress-reduction interventions can reduce negative affect and in some cases to improve in vitro fertilization outcomes. Although it has been well-established that stress negatively affects fertility in animal models, human research remains inconsistent due to individual differences and methodological flaws. Attempts to isolate single causal links between stress and infertility have not yet been successful due to their multifaceted etiologies. In this review, we will discuss the current literature in the field of stress-induced reproductive dysfunction based on animal and human models, and introduce a recently unexplored link between stress and infertility, the gut-derived hormone, ghrelin. We also present evidence from recent seminal studies demonstrating that ghrelin has a principal role in the stress response and reward processing, as well as in regulating reproductive function, and that these roles are tightly interlinked. Collectively, these data support the hypothesis that stress may negatively impact upon fertility at least in part by stimulating a dysregulation in ghrelin signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-467
Number of pages36
JournalEndocrine Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


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