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Metabolism. 2008 Oct;57 Suppl 2:S16-21. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.07.010.

Prenatal exposure to sex steroid hormones and behavioral/cognitive outcomes.

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Division of Preventive Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Experimental studies in animals indicate that androgen exposure in fetal or neonatal life largely accounts for known sex differences in brain structure and behavior. Clinical research in humans suggests similar influences of early androgen concentrations on some behaviors that show sex differences, including play behavior in childhood and sexual orientation in adulthood. Available research also suggests that sex steroid hormone exposure may contribute to sex differences in the risk of autism and affective disorders in schizophrenia. However, findings have been inconsistent for other characteristics that show sex differences, including aggression and spatial ability. Moreover, social and environmental factors may modulate some of the associations observed. This article reviews the evidence that early-life exposure to sex steroid hormones contributes to sexually dimorphic behavior and cognitive abilities in humans.

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