"This study is the first to directly examine whether testosterone in fetal development predicts tendencies later in life to engage in approach-related behavior (e.g., fun-seeking, impulsivity, reward responsivity) and also how it may influence later brain development that is relevant to such behaviors," said first author Lombardo.
In this study, they tested a unique cohort of boys, 8 years of age, whose fetal testosterone had been previously measured from amniotic fluid at 13 weeks gestation. The boys were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to assess changes in brain activity while viewing pictures of negative (fear), positive (happy), neutral, or scrambled faces.
They found that increased fetal testosterone predicted more sensitivity in the brain's reward system to positively, compared to negatively, valenced facial cues. This means that reward-related brain regions of boys with higher fetal testosterone levels respond more to positive facial emotion compared to negative facial emotion than boys who with smaller levels of fetal testosterone.
In addition, increased fetal testosterone levels predicted increased behavioral approach tendencies later in life via its influence on the brain's reward system. Lombardo explained, "This work highlights how testosterone in fetal development acts as a programming mechanism for shaping sensitivity of the brain's reward system later in life and for predicting later tendency to engage in approach-related behaviors. These insights may be especially relevant to a number of neuropsychiatric conditions with skewed sex ratios and which affect approach-related behavior and the brain's reward system."
Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biolog
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