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Philippa T K Saunders Centre for Inflammation Research, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Endometriosis is a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder the defining feature of which is the growth of tissue (lesions) that resembles the endometrium outside the uterus. Estimates of prevalence quote rates of ~10% of women of reproductive age, equating to at least 190 million women world-wide. Genetic, hormonal and immunological factors have all been proposed as contributing to risk factors associated with the development of lesions. Twin studies report the heritable component of endometriosis as ~50%. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that appear over-represented in patients with endometriosis, particularly those with more extensive disease (stage III/IV). In different sample populations, there has been replication of SNPs near genes involved in oestrogen and other steroid regulated pathways including ESR1 (oestrogen receptor alpha), GREB1, HOXA10, WNT4 and MAPK kinase signalling. Comparisons with GWAS conducted on other patient cohorts have found links with reproductive traits (age at menarche) and disorders (fibroids, endometrial and ovarian cancer) and common co-morbidities (migraine, depression, asthma). In summary, genetic analyses have provided new insights into the hormone-regulated pathways that may contribute to increased risk of developing endometriosis some of which may act in early life. New studies are needed to clarify the relationship between the many SNPs identified, the genes that they regulate and their contribution(s) to development of different forms of endometriosis. We hope that more advanced methods allowing integration between GWAS, epigenetic and tissue expression data will improve risk analysis and reduce diagnositic delay.

Lay summary

Endometriosis is a debilitating reproductive disorder affecting ~10% of reproductive-age women, and those assigned female at birth, which causes a range of symptoms including chronic pain and infertility. The reason why some, but not all these individuals, develop the lesions that characterise the disease are poorly understood, but recently attention has focused on genetic risk factors to explain why the incidence is higher in some families. Studies on large cohorts of patients with comparison of their DNA to women without endometriosis or with other disorders have documented changes in genes associated with steroid hormone production or action. The results provide further evidence that endometriosis shares genetic risk factors with other disorders of the reproductive system and a platform for new ideas related to risk, biomarkers and therapies.

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Francesca Hearn-Yeates F Hearn-Yeates, Centre for Reproductive Health, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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Andrew W Horne A Horne, Centre for Reproductive Health, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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Siobhain O’Mahony S O’Mahony, Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

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Philippa T K Saunders P Saunders, Centre for Reproductive Health, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting one in 10 women and those assigned female at birth, defined by the presence of endometrial-like tissue outside the uterus. It is commonly associated with pain, infertility, and mood disorders, and often comorbid with other chronic pain conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Recent research has identified a key role for the microbiota-gut-brain axis in health and a range of inflammatory and neurological disorders, prompting an exploration of its potential mechanistic role in endometriosis. Increased awareness of the impact of the gut microbiota within the patient community, combined with the often-detrimental side effects of current therapies, has motivated many to utilise self-management strategies, such as dietary modification and supplements, despite a lack of robust clinical evidence. Current research has characterised the gut microbiota in endometriosis patients and animal models. However, small cohorts and differing methodology has resulted in little consensus in the data. In this narrative review, we summarise research studies that have investigated the role of gut microbiota and their metabolic products in the development and progression of endometriosis lesions, before summarising insights from research into co-morbid conditions and discussing the reported impact of self-management strategies on symptoms of endometriosis. Finally, we suggest ways in which this promising field of research could be expanded to explore the role of specific bacteria, improve access to ‘microbial’ phenotyping, and to develop personalised patient advice for reduction of symptoms such as chronic pain and bloating.

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Douglas A Gibson Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Frances Collins Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Bianca De Leo Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Andrew W Horne MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Philippa T K Saunders Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Endometriosis is a chronic neuroinflammatory pain condition affecting ~180 million women worldwide. Surgical removal or hormonal suppression of endometriosis lesions only relieves pain symptoms in some women and symptomatic relapse following treatment is common. Identifying factors that contribute to pain is key to developing new therapies. We collected peritoneal fluid samples and clinical data from a cohort of women receiving diagnostic laparoscopy for suspected endometriosis (n = 52). Peritoneal fluid immune cells were analysed by flow cytometry and data compared with pain scores determined using the pain domain of the Endometriosis Health Profile Questionnaire (EHP-30) in order to investigate the association between peritoneal immune cells and pain symptoms. Pain scores were not different between women with or without endometriosis, nor did they differ according to disease stage; consistent with a poor association between disease presentation and pain symptoms. However, linear regression and correlation analysis demonstrated that peritoneal macrophage abundance correlated with the severity of pelvic pain. CD14high peritoneal macrophages negatively correlated with pain scores whereas CD14low peritoneal macrophages were positively correlated, independent of diagnostic outcome at laparoscopy. Stratification by pain subtype, rather than endometriosis diagnosis, resulted in the most robust correlation between pain and macrophage adundance. Pain score strongly correlated with CD14high (P = 0.007) and CD14low (P = 0.008) macrophages in patients with non-menstrual pain and also in patients who reported dysmennorhea (CD14high P = 0.021, CD14low P = 0.019) or dysparunia (CD14high P = 0.027, CD14low P = 0.031). These results provide new insight into the association between peritoneal macrophages and pelvic pain which may aid the identification of future therapeutic targets.

Lay summary

Endometriosis is a common condition where cells similar to those that line the womb are found elsewhere in the body. It is associated with inflammation and pain in the pelvis and affects ~180 million women worldwide. Current treatments are not effective for all patients and we, therefore, need to understand what causes pain in order to develop new treatments. We investigated the types of immune cells present within the pelvis of women undergoing investigation for suspected endometriosis. Disease diagnosis and stage (I–IV) was recorded along with pain score determined by questionnaire. We characterised the immune cells present and compared them to disease stage and pain score. We found that pelvic pain was linked to the abundance of immune cells but, surprisingly, not to disease stage. These findings suggest that immune cells are closely associated with pain severity in endometriosis and may be good targets for future endometriosis treatments.

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Ezekiel O Mecha Department of Biochemistry, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya

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Joseph N Njagi Marple Grove Gynecological Centre, Kerugoya, Kenya

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Roselydiah N Makunja Department of Biochemistry, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya

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Charles O A Omwandho Department of Biochemistry, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya
Kirinyaga University, Kerugoya, Kenya

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Philippa T K Saunders EXPPECT Centre, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh Bioquarter, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Andrew W Horne EXPPECT Centre, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh Bioquarter, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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Endometriosis has long been wrongly perceived to be rare among women of African descent. The misconception about the prevalence of endometriosis among African women has significantly contributed to long diagnostic delays, limited access to diagnosis and care, and a scarcity of research on the condition among African women. In this commentary, we highlight the prevalence of endometriosis among African women, the state of endometriosis care in Africa, and the gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed. Based on the available data, the prevalence of endometriosis in Africa is likely higher than previously thought, with varying subtypes. There is a long diagnostic delay of endometriosis among African women. Additionally, endometriosis care in Africa from the general population and health practitioners is poor; this can be attributed to the high diagnostic cost, scarcity of trained specialists, as well as patients’ inability to express their symptoms due to societal taboos surrounding menstrual health. Public sensitization on endometriosis may help improve endometriosis diagnosis and care in Africa.

Lay summary

Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue like the uterine lining is found outside the uterus, causing women to experience pain especially before, during, or after menstruation. Although endometriosis affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide, it has been wrongly reported that endometriosis is a rare condition among African women, mainly due to lack of awareness among healthcare providers and historical bias. In the current commentary, we discuss the prevalence of endometriosis, the diagnostic delays, and the care of endometriosis among black African women living in the African continent. Much of the literature has demonstrated (falsely) that endometriosis is rare in Black women compared to White ethnicity. African women experience a long diagnostic delay and do not receive appropriate care. Public awareness of endometriosis may help improve diagnosis delay and endometriosis care in Africa.

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