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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2003 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Prenatal Hormone Exposure and Sexual Variation

Hormone exposure in the womb is instrumental in shaping the sexual anatomy, physiology and behavior of mammals

John Vandenbergh

Figure 3. Mouse reproductive anatomy . . .Click to Enlarge Image

Sex hormones expressed during embryonic development establish the reproductive anatomy and behavior of mammals. In species that give birth to large litters, embryos line up in the uterus like peas in a pod, so that females that develop next to male siblings are exposed to more testosterone than their sisters. They are less successful at mating, but are more aggressive and have larger home territories. These findings may help fill in some gaps in our understanding of environmental influences on health and reproduction. Rodent experiments have also shown that pollutants can mimic or interfere with hormones and maternal stress during gestation and thus alter mating behavior and the timing of sexual maturity. Such experiments may help determine how environmental factors affect human health and reproduction.


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