Cognitive and adaptive advantages of growth hormone treatment in children with Prader-Willi syndrome

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017 Jan;58(1):64-74. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12601. Epub 2016 Aug 2.


Background: People with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) typically have mild to moderate intellectual deficits, compulsivity, hyperphagia, obesity, and growth hormone deficiencies. Growth hormone treatment (GHT) in PWS has well-established salutatory effects on linear growth and body composition, yet cognitive benefits of GHT, seen in other patient groups, have not been well studied in PWS.

Methods: Study 1 included 96 children and youth with PWS aged 4-21 years who naturalistically varied in their exposures to GHT. Controlling for socioeconomic status, analyses compared cognitive and adaptive behavior test scores across age-matched treatment naïve versus growth hormone treated children. Study II assessed if age of treatment initiation or treatment duration was associated with subsequent cognition or adaptive behavior in 127, 4- to 21-year olds with PWS. Study III longitudinally examined cognitive and adaptive behavior in 168 participants who were either consistently on versus off GHT for up to 4-5 years.

Results: Compared to the treatment naïve group, children receiving GHT had significantly higher Verbal and Composite IQs, and adaptive communication and daily living skills. Children who began treatment before 12 months of age had higher Nonverbal and Composite IQs than children who began treatment between 1 and 5 years of age. Longitudinally, the groups differed in their intercepts, but not slopes, with each group showing stable IQ and adaptive behavior scores over time.

Conclusions: Cognitive and adaptive advantages should be considered an ancillary benefit and additional justification for GHT in people with PWS. Future efforts need to target apparent socioeconomic inequities in accessing GHT in the PWS population.

Keywords: Prader-Willi syndrome; adaptive behavior; cognition; growth hormone treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adaptation, Psychological / drug effects*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Growth Hormone / administration & dosage
  • Growth Hormone / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Growth Hormone