Sex steroids at birth: genetic and environmental variation and covariation

Dev Psychobiol. 1991 Dec;24(8):559-70. doi: 10.1002/dev.420240804.


Three sex-steroids (estradiol, progesterone, & testosterone) were assayed from the umbilical cord blood of 58 same-sex twin pairs in an investigation of the effects of sex, as well as genetic and environmental factors, on neonatal hormone levels. Although significant mean differences were found between boys and girls for both testosterone and progesterone, sex appeared to account for very little of the total variation for any of the hormones. Results showed that genetic influences significantly affected within-sex variation in both estradiol and progesterone levels, while variations in the intrauterine (shared twin) environment accounted primarily for differences in levels of testosterone. Moderate correlations were also found among the three hormones. Multivariate biometrical analyses revealed these relationships to be explained by an underlying general factor of nonshared environmental influences affecting all three hormones. Genetic factors appeared to be specific to each hormone rather than correlated across hormones. These results suggest not only that genes are operating at this early age, but also that maternal and other prenatal factors (e.g., placental effects, uterine position) have a significant role in variations of sex-steroids and possibly on later behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Estradiol / blood*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn / blood*
  • Male
  • Progesterone / blood*
  • Testosterone / blood*
  • Twins, Dizygotic / genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic / genetics


  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol