Genetic and environmental influences on pubertal hormones in human hair across development

Andrew D. Grotzinger, Daniel A. Briley, Laura E. Engelhardt, Frank D. Mann, Megan W. Patterson, Jennifer L. Tackett, Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, K. Paige Harden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Puberty is a complex biopsychosocial process that can affect an array of psychiatric and medical disorders emerging in adolescence. Although the pubertal process is driven by neuroendocrine changes, few quantitative genetic studies have directly measured puberty-relevant hormones. Hair samples can now be assayed for accumulation of hormones over several months. In contrast to more conventional salivary measures, hair measures are not confounded by diurnal variation or hormonal reactivity. In an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sample of 1286 child and adolescent twins and multiples from 672 unique families, we estimated genetic and environmental influences on hair concentrations of testosterone, DHEA, and progesterone across the period of 8–18 years of age. On average, male DHEA and testosterone were highly heritable, whereas female DHEA, progesterone, and puberty were largely influenced by environmental components. We identified sex-specific developmental windows of maximal heritability in each hormone. Peak heritability for DHEA occurred at approximately 10 years of age for males and females. Peak heritability for testosterone occurred at age 12.5 and 15.2 years for males and females, respectively. Peak heritability for male progesterone occurred at 11.2 years, while the heritability of female progesterone remained uniformly low. The identification of specific developmental windows when genetic signals for hormones are maximized has critical implications for well-informed models of hormone-behavior associations in childhood and adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-84
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Adrenarche
  • Gene-age interaction
  • Gonadarche
  • Hormones in human hair
  • Puberty
  • Quantitative genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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