Prenatal sex hormones and behavioral outcomes in children

the TIDES Study Team

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Abnormal sex hormone levels in utero have been associated with child behavioral problems, but it is unclear if normal variation in prenatal sex hormones is associated with subsequent behavior in childhood. We assessed maternal sex hormones, including serum estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3), free testosterone (FT), and total testosterone (TT), during early pregnancy (gestational week 6–21 (mean = 11.1)) and evaluated child behavior at ages 4–5 using the Behavioral Assessment System for Children (BASC-2) and Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2) in 404 mother/child pairs (211 girls, 193 boys) within The Infant Development and Environment Study, a multi-site pregnancy cohort study. Associations between hormones and composite scores were evaluated using multiple linear regressions in both sexes combined, and separate models assessed effect modification by sex with the addition of interaction terms. A 10-fold increase in maternal FT or TT was associated in both sexes with a 4.3-point (95 % CI: 0.5, 8.2) or 4.4-point (0.8, 8.0) higher BASC-2 internalizing composite T score, respectively. In addition, a 10-fold increase in FT or TT was associated with a 3.8-point (0.04, 7.5) or 4.0-point (0.5, 7.5) higher behavioral symptoms index composite score. In models evaluating effect modification by sex, a 10-fold increase in E1 was associated with a 4.3-point (1.2, 7.4) decrease in adaptive skills composite score in girls only (interaction p = 0.04). We observed associations between testosterone and internalizing behaviors and behavioral symptoms index in both sexes, as well as a female-specific association between E1 and adaptive skills. Sex hormones during pregnancy may play a key role in influencing later-life behavior, and additional studies should further examine different periods of susceptibility to hormonal signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104547
StatePublished - Mar 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


  • Child behavior
  • Estrogen
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Testosterone


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