Fetal exposure to sex hormones and female anxiety

This 2015 Swedish rodent study found:

“Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) display high circulating androgen levels that may affect the fetus and increase the risk of mood disorders in offspring.

Although clinical data are inconsistent, there are indications that androgens play a crucial role in behavior and mood regulation in females.

Studies on the link between testosterone and anxiety behavior in males have generated inconsistent results.

Higher circulating testosterone has previously been reported in female rat PNA [prenatal androgen] offspring. This discrepancy may be a result of the higher doses of maternal testosterone (5 mg) used in the previous study compared with the present study (0.5 mg).

Although the anxiety-like behavior observed in the female PNA offspring in the present study cannot be directly explained by high circulating androgens, the reduced AR [androgen receptor] expression in the amygdala suggests a compensatory response to the high prenatal testosterone exposure, a result implicating the amygdala as the CNS site underlying the changes in anxiety in the PNA offspring. This idea is further strengthened by our experiment showing that subchronic testosterone exposure into amygdala is sufficient to produce anxiety-like behavior in adult females.

Maternal testosterone exposure causes anxiety-like behavior in female, and to a lesser extent male offspring, an effect that seems to occur during fetal life and to be mediated via AR in the amygdala, together with changes in ER [estrogen receptor] and in the serotonergic and GABAergic pathways in the amygdala and hippocampus of female PNA rats.”

The news coverage – too much testosterone caused anxiety-like symptoms in females whether they are adults or fetuses – was NOT what the study found. The headlines disregarded its caveat:

“The anxiety-like behavior observed in the female PNA offspring in the present study cannot be directly explained by high circulating androgens.”

I look forward to research on floor levels of testosterone, below which there are also adverse effects on females. There is such evidence, but would it play well with popular memes?

See Sex hormone exposure to the developing female fetus causes infertility in adulthood for another study that used the PCOS phenotype.

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/46/14348.full “Maternal testosterone exposure increases anxiety-like behavior and impacts the limbic system in the offspring”

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