Prenatal stress is known to alter hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, and more recent evidence suggests that it may also affect androgen activity. In animal models, prenatal stress disrupts the normal surge of testosterone in the developing male, whereas in females, associations differ by species. In humans, studies show that (1) associations between prenatal stress and child outcomes are often sex-dependent, (2) prenatal stress predicts several disorders with notable sex differences in prevalence, and (3) prenatal exposure to stressful life events may be associated with masculinized reproductive tract development and play behavior in girls. In this minireview, we examine the existing literature on prenatal stress and androgenic activity and present new, preliminary data indicating that prenatal stress may also modify associations between prenatal exposure to diethylhexyl phthalate, (a synthetic, antiandrogenic chemical) and reproductive development in infant boys. Taken together, these data support the hypothesis that prenatal exposure to both chemical and nonchemical stressors may alter sex steroid pathways in the maternal-placental-fetal unit and ultimately alter hormone-dependent developmental endpoints.
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