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Horm Behav. 2010 Mar;57(3):306-12. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.12.012. Epub 2010 Jan 6.

In utero cortisol and testosterone exposure and fear reactivity in infancy.

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Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London, London, UK.


Fetal programming is emerging as a major conceptual model for understanding developmental origins of health and disease, including behavioral outcomes. As part of a larger study of prenatal stress and child development, we examined the association between prenatal hormone exposure and fear reactivity, a temperament dimension that is a predictor of long-term behavioral adjustment. Amniotic fluid was collected from a sample of women undergoing clinically indicated amniocentesis for later analysis of cortisol and testosterone. Children with normal birth outcomes were recalled for follow-up assessment at 17 months, at which time we administered an observational assessment of temperament (lab-TAB; n=108). Information on pregnancy and obstetric outcome was included as covariates. Results indicated that there was a significant association between prenatal testosterone and observed fear reactivity in boys (r(53)=0.34, p=0.01); no significant effect was found in girls (r(54)=-0.07, ns); the effect remained when obstetric, psychosocial, and parental anxiety were controlled for. There was not a significant association between fetal cortisol exposure and fear reactivity. The prediction from in utero testosterone exposure to fear reactivity in boys extends prior research on prenatal testosterone and may represent an association with a general predisposition to greater arousal and reactivity.

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