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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 58-62

Anti-Mullerian hormone – Promises and pitfalls

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, ART Centre, All Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication16-Nov-2017

Correspondence Address:
Neena Malhotra
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Room No. 3064, 3rd floor, Teaching block, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/fsr.fsr_3_17

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Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) measurement is a routine practice that precedes every assisted reproductive techniques (ART) cycle in the current day. However, there is much more to AMH than just prediction of the cycle response. Many more applications have emerged in keeping with its role in understanding ovarian physiology and pathology. Many more contentious aspects need exploration on its measurements adding dimensions for future research.

Keywords: AMH, infertility, ovarian reserve

How to cite this article:
Agarwal S, Malhotra N. Anti-Mullerian hormone – Promises and pitfalls. Fertil Sci Res 2016;3:58-62

How to cite this URL:
Agarwal S, Malhotra N. Anti-Mullerian hormone – Promises and pitfalls. Fertil Sci Res [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Jun 7];3:58-62. Available from: https://www.fertilityscienceresearch.org/text.asp?2016/3/2/58/218547

  Introduction Top

AMH has emerged as an important biomarker in reproductive medicine with varied clinical applications. Secreted by the antral and preantral follicles in the ovary, it plays an important role in ovarian folliculogenesis and steroidogenesis. AMH inhibits early follicular recruitment and preserves the primordial follicles and, thus, prevents premature exhaustion of follicles. It is not only being utilized as a marker of ovarian reserve helping in individualizing therapeutic strategies and stimulation protocols in infertility treatment but has also found a potential role in monitoring chemotherapeutic and radiation-induced ovarian toxicity, surgery-induced ovarian damage, in predicting menopause, as a surrogate marker in the diagnosis of patients of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and certain ovarian tumors. However, due to the lack of standardization of lab assay and cutoffs for various ethnic populations, the reliability of AMH especially in the infertile population remains controversial. Further research into the follicular levels of AMH may help in quantifying this marker for the prediction of quantity as well as quality of oocytes.

  Physiology of Anti-Mullerian Hormone Top

AMH, also known as Mullerian inhibiting substance is a dimeric glycoprotein belonging to the transforming growth factor β superfamily.[1] It was originally identified because of its role in male sexual differentiation. When expressed in the  Sertoli cells More Details of fetal testis, it leads to regression of Mullerian ducts. The absence of AMH in the female fetus allows the development of the Mullerian duct into uterus, tubes, and upper part of vagina.[2] In females, AMH is produced by the ovarian granulosa cells from the preantral stage to the antral follicle and acts as an inhibitor of primordial follicle recruitment. It also has a role in selection of the dominant follicle in late follicular phase by regulating the threshold of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) sensitivity.[3] AMH levels are undetectable at birth and rise with the onset of puberty and remain stable in the reproductive period and again decline with advancing age and become almost indiscernible with imminent menopause. The serum levels are proportional to the number of developing follicles, and so AMH reflects the process of ovarian aging.[4] The many promising areas, where the utility of AMH measurements have been assessed and proven, are discussed.

Anti-Mullerian hormone as a marker of ovarian reserve

The reproductive potential of a female is determined by the biological age (ovarian reserve) rather than the chronological age. Ovarian reserve is constituted by the quantity and quality of the primordial follicles in the ovary. Since AMH is produced exclusively in the pre-antral and antral ovarian follicles, it serves as a good marker of the functional ovarian reserve and can help in predicting the reproductive life span guiding women on planning over delaying conception.[4]

There is a non-significant inter-cycle and intra-cycle variability of AMH during the menstrual cycle. Also the levels are not significantly altered by short-term exogenous hormone intake including oral contraceptive pills.[5]

AMH as a predictor of natural fertility has been evaluated in a few studies. a study by Steiner,[6] women in their 30s with low AMH had a significantly reduced fecundability.[6] Contrastingly, in healthy young women with no prior knowledge of their fecundity, even if very low AMH levels were present, there was no compromise in the fecundability. In women with high AMH the fecundability was again reduced reflecting probable anovulation.[6]

Anti-Mullerian hormone as a marker of ovarian response in assisted reproductive techniques

ART have become a standard treatment of care in indicated cases of male and female infertility. Age and ovarian reserve help in determining the success of ART. AMH especially along with antral follicle counts (AFCs) has been shown to correlate with the number of oocytes retrieved as well as cycle cancelations. AMH helps in identifying both poor responders as well as the hyper-responders prior to initiating in vitro fertilization cycle.[7],[8],[9] Thus, it aids the clinicians in counseling patients and providing a realistic prognostication before embarking on an expensive and physically and emotionally taxing procedure of ART. It also helps in individualizing stimulation protocols and dosage of gonadotropins to optimize results with minimum cycle cancelations and complications, most dreaded being ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.[7],[8] However, AMH does not correlate well with pregnancy rates probably because it is an indicator of the quantity rather than the quality of oocytes.[10]

Anti-Mullerian hormone and polycystic ovarian syndrome

PCOS is the most common cause of chronic anovulation and hyperandrogenism affecting around 5–10% of women. It is characterized by an increase in the number of ovarian follicles at all growing stages, particularly the preantral and antral follicles which are accepted to produce AMH. The levels of AMH in PCOS women are 2–4 times higher than that in the healthy women, being 75-fold higher in anovulatory PCOS and 20-fold higher in normo-ovulatory PCOS suggesting an intrinsic granulose cell dysfunction.[11] Different studies have displayed that AMH levels highly correspond with the number of follicles in polycystic ovaries and further suggested a strong positive correlation of severity of symptoms including hyperandrogenism and oligo-anovulation with the levels.[12] Thus AMH has been proposed as a surrogate marker for AFC in the diagnosis of PCOS. But this diagnostic transition has not materialized or been accepted in defining disease, as there is no uniformity and international standards in AMH lab assay. Further, the threshold of AMH across various populations worldwide has not yet been determined. One study has proposed a cutoff of 35 pmol/L (4.9 ng/mL) using the enzyme immunoassay technique by Beckmann Coulter, which needs to be validated by similar studies.[13]

AMH levels, therefore, are of utmost help in deciding the treatment protocols and in defining the best strategy for ovulation induction in such patients. It can also help in assessing the response to treatment such as ovarian drilling and predict hyperstimulation. More studies are needed to clearly define these thresholds that predict response.

Anti-Mullerian hormone beyond infertility

Anti-Mullerian hormone and assessment of iatrogenic ovarian damage

The measurement of AMH levels have found utilization in assessing damage to the ovarian reserves caused by iatrogenic sources such as gonadotoxic chemotherapy, pelvic irradiation, uterine artery embolization, and ovarian surgery (cystectomy, stripping, fulguration) and may, therefore, guide in devising strategies to preserve fertility.[5] The option of cryopreservation of oocytes or embryos before chemotherapy or radiotherapy should be considered based on the AMH levels. Studies have shown declining AMH in young adults exposed to chemotherapy in childhood cancers and breast cancers.[14] In addition to reflecting post treatment ovarian damage AMH can also predict ongoing ovarian activity useful to counsel women as regards menstruation besides fertility issues. The impact of ovarian surgery (particularly for endometrioma) has been elucidated in two systematic reviews; both of which have demonstrated a decline in AMH levels post procedure indicating a significant attenuation of ovarian reserve despite surgical expertise.[15],[16] All these should be considered when planning surgery in a female desirous of future pregnancy.

Anti-Mullerian hormone as a tumor marker and tumor inhibitor

Since AMH is synthesized by the granulosa cells, it has been evaluated as a tumor marker for the diagnosis of granulosa cell tumor of the ovary. AMH levels are elevated in 76–93% of women with granulosa cell tumors.[17] Moreover, a rise in AMH levels precedes the clinical recurrence of tumor by up to 16 months.[17] Therefore, AMH could be used as an early diagnostic marker of as well as to follow up for the detection of recurrence in cases of granulosa cell tumor. A recent theory has been proposed that most epithelial ovarian tumors originate from fimbriated ends of  Fallopian tube More Detailss or the secondary Mullerian system which can be potentially inhibited by AMH just because it induces the regression of Mullerian duct in fetal life. Thus, AMH is being explored as a therapeutic and diagnostic agent in epithelial ovarian tumors.[17]

Anti-Mullerian hormone in the prediction of menopause and premature ovarian insufficiency

The number of primordial follicles diminishes with advancing age and is virtually depleted at menopause. Data have emerged from studies suggesting a relation between AMH level at a certain age and the timing of menopause.[18]

This can help in individualized prediction of the reproductive lifespan, and time of onset of menopause and in diagnosis of premature ovarian insufficiency. This can provide a significant clinical tool in assisting women to plan child bearing, timely referral for ART and potentially prevent infertility based on early ovarian aging.

Anti-Mullerian hormone in pediatric disorders of sex development

AMH is a marker of gonadal development and plays an important role in sex differentiation and development of testes. Lower concentration or absence in males is indicative of dysfunctional testis while higher levels in females suggest existence of testicular tissue. AMH is currently used to assess the presence of testicular tissue in ambiguous genitalia, anorchia, and cryptorchidism with potential follow-up post treatment for ovotestis.[19] It can also aid in differentiating between various causes of virilization in girls.

Anti-Mullerian hormone in male infertility

AMH is a specific marker of Sertoli cell function secreted in both serum and seminal fluid. It is secreted from the testis from around the 8th week of pregnancy and remains high till puberty when androgen secretion by Leydig cells increases and AMH levels fall having an indirect bearing on spermatogenesis. Recent studies have shown lower levels of serum AMH in men with obstructive azoospermia compared to non-obstructive azoospermia.[20] Also as discussed above, AMH indicates the existence of functional testicular tissue and helps in differentiating gonadal dysgenesis from tubulo-interstitial dysfunction in men with infertility or sexual dysfunction.

  Pitfalls of Anti-Mullerian Hormone Top

Though AMH has emerged as a promising marker with a wide array of clinical applications, it is still shrouded with shortcomings. There is still confusion as regards the most ideal and acceptable AMH assay.[21] In the last 20 years, there has been a constant evolution of the assay from single laboratory versions, through to the more recent commercially available Diagnostic Systems Lab (DSL) and Immunotech (IOT) (also branded as the Immunotech Beckman Coulter) assays. However, these assays utilized two different primary antibodies against AMH and different standards and consequently the crude values reported by authors and between papers can differ substantially, with the IOT assay giving values for AMH that are higher than those obtained with the DSL assay. But with the recent consolidation of these two companies by Beckman Coulter, there is finally a single commercially available assay − the AMH Generation II assay (AMH Gen II assay). Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay initially developed has evolved from IOT to the present Gen II assay. It is not recommended to adapt clinical cut-off values from the IOT assay to the Gen II assay, because a different antibody pair is used.

It is important to develop an international standard for AMH to allow harmonization of current and potential new AMH assays, thereby eliminating the need to establish assay-specific normative and cut-off values. To resolve these issues on AMH assay, currently the fully automated assay, Elecsys® AMH assay is indicated for the quantification of AMH, which (in conjunction with other clinical and laboratory findings) can help to determine ovarian reserve.[22] The assay is highly sensitive and precise, with a broad linear range, and correlates well with manual AMH assays and transvaginal sonographic assessment of AFC, but has the benefit of being less variable. The Elecsys® AMH assay also has a shorter testing time than some other AMH assays and was shown to provide a reproducible measure of ovarian reserve in the women of reproductive age in a large prospective cohort study, demonstrating its usefulness in this setting.

There is also high inter-individual variability of AMH. Ethnic variation has been shown in few studies with African-American and Hispanic women having lower levels of AMH as compared to Caucasians. In one study, it was concluded that Asians have faster ovarian aging as compared to their European counterparts.[23] Also body mass index (BMI) may affect the ovarian reserve and subsequently the AMH levels, and a negative correlation between the two has been proposed.[24] Intra-individual variability with different AMH levels at different times has also been studied. Majority of the studies indicate that AMH levels remain relatively stable throughout the menstrual cycle, yet a recent small study found a reduction in AMH levels in the luteal phase.[25] Also the use of prolonged oral contraceptive pills or gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists leads to a reduction in AMH. In relation to pregnancy, it has been seen that AMH levels fall significantly in the second and third trimesters as compared to the first trimester.

Therefore, it is important to establish valid nomograms of AMH levels in diverse populations across the world. La Marca et al.[26] and Nelson et al.[27] have created nomograms for the European and the American population, but a uniform international standard is the need of the hour. Currently, in the reproductive aged women (25–40 years), studies in terms of fertility recommend, levels of 1.0–3.0 ng/mL AMH as “normal,” 0.7–0.9 ng/mL as “low normal,” and 0.3–0.6 ng/mL as “low” and <0.3 ng/mL to be a “very low” range, but whether it can be extrapolated to all ethnic groups is debatable.

Thus, fluctuations in serum AMH levels should be considered while interpreting values in clinical practice and should not be the sole criteria of refusing treatment especially in ART.

  Conclusion Top

AMH is an important biomarker in both male and female reproductive physiology. It reflects the acyclic ovarian activity, thus, providing a window to the submerged part of the tip of the iceberg of follicle growth. An international standard for AMH and improved assay validity are urgently needed to maximize the clinical utility of this very valuable marker of ovarian function in a large array of clinical situations, right from childhood to adolescence to adult females.

  References Top

Pepinsky RB, Sincalir LK, Chow EP, Mattaliano RJ, Manganaro TF, Donahoe PK et al. Proteolytic processing of Mullerian inhibiting substance produces a transforming growth factor beta like fragment. J Biol Chem 1988;263:18961-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
Behringer RR, Finegold MJ, Cate RL. Mullerian inhibiting substance function during mammalian sexual development. Cell 1994;79:415-25.  Back to cited text no. 2
Andersen CY, Byskov AG. Estradiol and regulation of anti-Mullerian hormone, inhibin-A, and inhibin-B secretion: Analysis of small antral and preovulatory human follicles’ fluid. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2006;91:4064.  Back to cited text no. 3
Van Rooij IA, Baroekmans FJ, Scheffer GJ, Looman CW, Habbema JD, De Jong FH et al. Serum anti-Mullerian hormone levels best reflect the reproductive decline with age in normal women with proven fertility: A longitudinal study. Fertil Steril 2005;83:979.  Back to cited text no. 4
Nelson SM. Biomarkers of ovarian response: Current and future applications. Fertil Steril 2013;99:963-9.  Back to cited text no. 5
Steiner Z. Biomarkers of ovarian reserve as predictors of reproductive potential. Semin Reprod Med 2013;31:437-42.  Back to cited text no. 6
Muttukrishna S, McGarrigle H, Wakim R, Khadum I, Ranieri DM, Serhal P. Antral follicle count, anti-Mullerian hormone and inhibin B: Predictors of ovarian response in assisted reproductive technology? Br J Obstet Gynaecol 2005;112:1384-90.  Back to cited text no. 7
Nelson SM, Yates RW, Lyall H, Jamieson M, Traynor I, Gaudoin M et al. Anti-Mullerian hormone-based approach to controlled ovarian stimulation for assisted conception. Hum Reprod 2009;24:867-75.  Back to cited text no. 8
La Marca A, Nelson SM, Siginolfi G, Manno M, Baraldi E, Roli L et al. Anti-Mullerian hormone-based prediction model for a live birth in assisted reproduction. Reprod Biomed Online 2011;22:341-9.  Back to cited text no. 9
Reichman DE, Goldschlag D, Rosenwaks Z. Value of antiMüllerian hormone as a prognostic indicator of in vitro fertilization outcome. Fertil Steril 2014;101:1012-8.  Back to cited text no. 10
Pellatt L, Rice S, Mason HD. Anti-Müllerian hormone and polycystic ovary syndrome: A mountain too high? Reproduction 2010;139:825-33.  Back to cited text no. 11
Homburg R, Ray A, Bhide P, Gudi A, Shah A, Timms P et al. The relationship of serum anti-Mullerian hormone with polycystic ovarian morphology and polycystic ovary syndrome: A prospective cohort study. Hum Reprod 2013;28:1077-83.  Back to cited text no. 12
Dewailly D, Gronier H, Poncelet E, Robin G, Leroy M, Pigny P et al. Diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Revisiting the threshold values of follicle count on ultrasound and of the serum AMH level for the definition of polycystic ovaries. Hum Reprod 2011;26:3123-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
Anderson RA, Rosendahl M, Kelsey TW, Cameron DA. Pretreatment anti-Müllerian hormone predicts for loss of ovarian function after chemotherapy for early breast cancer. Eur J Cancer 2013;49:3404-11.  Back to cited text no. 14
Somigliana E, Berlanda N, Benaglia L, Viganò P, Vercellini P, Fedele L. Surgical excision of endometriomas and ovarian reserve: A systematic review on serum antiMüllerian hormone level modifications. Fertil Steril 2012;98:1531-8.  Back to cited text no. 15
Raffi F, Metwally M, Amer S. The impact of excision of ovarian endometrioma on ovarian reserve: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012;97:3146-54.  Back to cited text no. 16
La Marca A, Volpe A. The anti-Mullerian hormone and ovarian cancer. Hum Reprod Update 2007;13:265-73.  Back to cited text no. 17
Broer SL, Eijkemans MJ, Scheffer GJ, van Rooij IA, de Vet A, Themmen AP et al. Anti-Mullerian hormone predicts menopause: A long-term follow-up study in normoovulatory women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2011;96:2532-9.  Back to cited text no. 18
Edelsztein NY, Grinspon RP, Schteingart HF, Rey RA. Anti-Müllerian hormone as a marker of steroid and gonadotropin action in the testis of children and adolescents with disorders of the gonadal axis. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol 2016;2016:20.  Back to cited text no. 19
Toulis KA, Iliadou PK, Venetis CA, Tsametis C, Tarlatzis BC, Papadimas I et al. Inhibin B and anti-Mullerian hormone as markers of persistent spermatogenesis in men with non-obstructive azoospermia: A meta-analysis of diagnostic accuracy studies. Hum Reprod Update 2010;16:713-24.  Back to cited text no. 20
Nelson SM, La Marca A. The journey from the old to the new AMH assay: How to avoid getting lost in the values. Reprod BioMed Online 2011;23:411-20.  Back to cited text no. 21
Deeks ED. Elecsys® AMH assay: A review in anti-Müllerian hormone quantification and assessment of ovarian reserve. Mol Diagn Ther 2015;19:245-9.  Back to cited text no. 22
Bleil ME, Gregorich SE, Adler NE, Sternfeld B, Rosen MP, Cedars MI. Race/ethnic disparities in reproductive age: An examination of ovarian reserve estimates across four race/ethnic groups of healthy, regularly cycling women. Fertil Steril 2014;101:199-207.  Back to cited text no. 23
Moy V, Jindal S, Lieman H, Buyuk E. Obesity adversely affects serum anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) levels in Caucasian women. J Assist Reprod Genet 2015;32:1305-11.  Back to cited text no. 24
Kissell KA, Danaher MR, Schisterman EF, Wactawski-Wende J, Ahrens KA, Schliep K et al. Biological variability in serum anti-Mullerian hormone throughout the menstrual cycle in ovulatory and sporadic anovulatory cycles in eumenorrheic women. Hum Reprod 2014;29:1764-72.  Back to cited text no. 25
La Marca A, Papaleo E, Grisendi V, Argento C, Giulini S, Volpe A. Development of a nomogram based on markers of ovarian reserve for the individualisation of the follicle-stimulating hormone starting dose in in vitro fertilisation cycles. Br J Obstet Gynecol 2012;119:1171-9.  Back to cited text no. 26
Nelson SM, Iliodromiti S, Fleming R, Anderson R, McConnachie A, Messow CM. Reference range for the antiMüllerian hormone Generation II assay: A population study of 10,984 women, with comparison to the established Diagnostics Systems Laboratory nomogram. Fertil Steril 2014;101:523-9.  Back to cited text no. 27


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