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Naturwissenschaften. 2003 Mar;90(3):141-4. Epub 2003 Feb 8.

Intersexual dominance, masculinized genitals and prenatal steroids: comparative data from lemurid primates.

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  • 1Abteilung Verhaltensforschung and Okologie, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany.


Masculinization of female genitalia and female intersexual dominance distinguish spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) and Malagasy primates (Lemuriformes) from most other mammals. An unusual prenatal endocrine environment has been proposed to proximately underlie the development of these traits in hyenas. To examine whether female dominance and genital masculinization are similarly enhanced by the prenatal environment in lemurid primates, we measured androgen and estrogen excretion in pregnant wild redfronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus). Our results showed that estrogen levels during the second phase of gestation were much higher in females carrying a male fetus than in female-carrying mothers. This may indicate the onset of testicular activity in male fetuses, because androgens of fetal origin are aromatized to maternal estrogens. Levels of androgen excretion were similar in all mothers regardless of the fetus' sex, which may suggest that androgen-independent mechanisms also contribute to female masculinization. The much higher androgen/estrogen ratio in female-carrying mothers indicates that relative, rather than absolute, prenatal steroid concentrations may play a role in female masculinization.

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