Anogenital distance in newborn daughters of women with polycystic ovary syndrome indicates fetal testosterone exposure

J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2018 Jun;9(3):307-314. doi: 10.1017/S2040174417001118. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects ~7% of reproductive age women. Although its etiology is unknown, in animals, excess prenatal testosterone (T) exposure induces PCOS-like phenotypes. While measuring fetal T in humans is infeasible, demonstrating in utero androgen exposure using a reliable newborn biomarker, anogenital distance (AGD), would provide evidence for a fetal origin of PCOS and potentially identify girls at risk. Using data from a pregnancy cohort (The Infant Development and Environment Study), we tested the novel hypothesis that infant girls born to women with PCOS have longer AGD, suggesting higher fetal T exposure, than girls born to women without PCOS. During pregnancy, women reported whether they ever had a PCOS diagnosis. After birth, infant girls underwent two AGD measurements: anofourchette distance (AGD-AF) and anoclitoral distance (AGD-AC). We fit adjusted linear regression models to examine the association between maternal PCOS and girls' AGD. In total, 300 mother-daughter dyads had complete data and 23 mothers reported PCOS. AGD was longer in the daughters of women with a PCOS diagnosis compared with daughters of women with no diagnosis (AGD-AF: β=1.21, P=0.05; AGD-AC: β=1.05, P=0.18). Results were stronger in analyses limited to term births (AGD-AF: β=1.65, P=0.02; AGD-AC: β=1.43, P=0.09). Our study is the first to examine AGD in offspring of women with PCOS. Our results are consistent with findings that women with PCOS have longer AGD and suggest that during PCOS pregnancies, daughters may experience elevated T exposure. Identifying the underlying causes of PCOS may facilitate early identification and intervention for those at risk.

Keywords: AGD; PCOS; fetal programming; pregnancy; testosterone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anal Canal / drug effects
  • Anal Canal / pathology*
  • Androgens / adverse effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female / drug effects
  • Genitalia, Female / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Nuclear Family*
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Testosterone / adverse effects*


  • Androgens
  • Testosterone