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Genetic and Environmental Influences on Pubertal Hormones in Human Hair across Development

By Andrew D Grotzinger, Daniel A. Briley, Laura E. Engelhardt, Frank D. Mann, Megan W. Patterson, Jennifer L. Tackett, Elliot M Tucker-Drob, Kathryn Paige Harden

Posted 20 Jun 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/152470 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.02.005)

Background: Puberty is a complex biopsychosocial process that is linked to an array of psychiatric and medical disorders that emerge in adolescence and persist across the lifespan. Although the pubertal process is driven by neuroendocrine changes, few quantitative genetic studies have directly measured puberty-relevant hormones. Hair samples can now be assayed for accumulation of hormones over several months. In contrast to more conventional salivary measures, hair measures are not confounded by diurnal variation or hormonal reactivity. Methods: In an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample of 1,286 child and adolescent twins and multiples from 672 unique families, we estimated genetic and environmental influences on concentrations of testosterone, DHEA, and progesterone in hair across the period of 8 to 18 years of age. Results: We identified sex-specific developmental windows of maximal heritability in each hormone. Peak heritability for DHEA occurred at age 9.8 years for males and 10.0 years for females. Peak heritability for testosterone occurred at age 12.5 and 15.2 years for males and females, respectively. Peak heritability for male progesterone occurred at 11.2 years, while the heritability of female progesterone remained uniformly low. Conclusion: This is the first study of genetic influences on pubertal hormone concentrations in human hair and is the largest of the heritability of pubertal hormones in any form. The identification of specific developmental windows when genetic signals for hormones are maximized has critical implications for well-informed models of hormone-behavior associations in childhood and adolescence.

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