An international team of researchers has identified 13 new gene regions associated with the timing of menopause.
The genes found in these DNA regions shed light on the biological pathways involved in determining when women go through menopause.
'The new findings highlight biological pathways not previously associated with reproductive lifespan, and may provide insights into the other conditions connected with menopause age, such as cardiovascular disease and breast cancer,' says one of the lead researchers, Dr John Perry, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Exeter.
Menopause is a major hormonal change that affects most women when they are in their early 50s. The timing of menopause can have a huge impact on fertility, and it can also influence the risk of a range of common diseases such as breast cancer.
It has been known for some time that genetic factors influence the onset of menopause, but until recently very few genes had been identified.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, examined the genomes of over 50,000 women.
The study team included dozens of researchers from the USA, across Europe including several UK universities, Australia and Singapore.
The researchers identified 13 novel gene regions associated with menopause onset, and confirmed four regions that had previously been found.
Most of the 17 regions include genes related to DNA damage/repair or the immune system, while others are linked to hormone regulation.
Dr Anna Murray of the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry added: 'Menopause is a process most women go through, yet we know very little about what governs the timing of this key event in a woman’s life. By finding out which genes control the timing of menopause we hope to be able understand why this happens very early to some women, reducing their chances of having children naturally.'
The research team are currently working with women who had very early menopause to determine whether the newly identified genes play a role in this condition which affects over five per cent of women.