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J Reprod Fertil. 1992 Jul;95(2):463-74.

Hormonal correlates of 'masculinization' in female spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta). 2. Maternal and fetal steroids.

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  • 1Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


Concentrations of androgens (androstenedione, testosterone, 5 alpha-dihydrotestosterone), oestrogen and progesterone were measured in relation to pregnancy in the spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta). The gestation period was estimated to be about 110 days. There was a marked progressive rise in all the steroids starting in the first third of gestation. Chromatographic separation of plasma showed that much of the oestrogen is not oestradiol (only 12% of total measured) and that a significant fraction of the 'testosterone' may be dihydrotestosterone. In the final third of pregnancy, concentrations of androgen (especially testosterone plus dihydrotestosterone) in the female circulation reached the maximal values of adult males; the percentage of dihydrotestosterone relative to total testosterone plus dihydrotestosterone was higher in females (44 +/- 3.9%, n = 20) than in males (29.5 +/- 3.5%, n = 17). Plasma androstenedione was also significantly higher in females, but the increment was less than for oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone, and the temporal pattern was less clear. Samples from the maternal uterine and ovarian circulation showed that androstenedione is largely of ovarian origin and metabolized by the placenta, while testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen are primarily of placental or uterine origin. Fetal samples were taken from two mixed-sex sets of twins and one male singleton. Gradients across the placenta measured in the fetal circulation confirmed that the placenta metabolizes androstenedione and is a source of testosterone for the female fetus; there were no consistent differences in androgens between male and female fetuses. It is suggested that the conspicuous masculinization of the female spotted hyaena, especially evident in the external genitalia at birth, is a result, at least in part, of high placental production of testosterone or dihydrotestosterone derived from the metabolism of high maternal androstenedione.

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