Fingers as a marker of prenatal androgen exposure

Endocrinology. 2009 Nov;150(11):5119-24. doi: 10.1210/en.2009-0774. Epub 2009 Oct 9.


Interest in biological substrates of sex-related variations in psychological and physiological characteristics has led to a search for biomarkers of prenatal hormone exposure that can be measured postnatally. There has been particular interest in digit ratio, the relative lengths of the second and fourth fingers (2D:4D), but its validity as a measure of prenatal androgen has not been established. We report the strongest evaluation of the value of 2D:4D as a biomarker for early androgen exposure. Individuals with 46,XY karyotype but no effective prenatal androgen exposure due to complete androgen insensitivity syndrome had digit ratios that were feminized: they were higher than those of typical men and similar to those of typical women. Nevertheless, the effect was modest in size, and there was considerable within-group variability and between-group overlap, indicating that digit ratio is not a good marker of individual differences in prenatal androgen exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome / chemically induced*
  • Androgen-Insensitivity Syndrome / metabolism
  • Androgens / adverse effects*
  • Androgens / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / chemistry*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Fingers / anatomy & histology*
  • Fingers / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Karyotyping
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paternal Exposure*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult


  • Androgens
  • Biomarkers