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The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Interactive effects of dehydroepiandrosterone and testosterone on cortical thickness during early brain development.


PMID 23804104

Abstract

Humans and the great apes are the only species demonstrated to exhibit adrenarche, a key endocrine event associated with prepubertal increases in the adrenal production of androgens, most significantly dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and to a certain degree testosterone. Adrenarche also coincides with the emergence of the prosocial and neurobehavioral skills of middle childhood and may therefore represent a human-specific stage of development. Both DHEA and testosterone have been reported in animal and in vitro studies to enhance neuronal survival and programmed cell death depending on the timing, dose, and hormonal context involved, and to potentially compete for the same signaling pathways. Yet no extant brain-hormone studies have examined the interaction between DHEA- and testosterone-related cortical maturation in humans. Here, we used linear mixed models to examine changes in cortical thickness associated with salivary DHEA and testosterone levels in a longitudinal sample of developmentally healthy children and adolescents 4-22 years old. DHEA levels were associated with increases in cortical thickness of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right temporoparietal junction, right premotor and right entorhinal cortex between the ages of 4-13 years, a period marked by the androgenic changes of adrenarche. There was also an interaction between DHEA and testosterone on cortical thickness of the right cingulate cortex and occipital pole that was most significant in prepubertal subjects. DHEA and testosterone appear to interact and modulate the complex process of cortical maturation during middle childhood, consistent with evidence at the molecular level of fast/nongenomic and slow/genomic or conversion-based mechanisms underlying androgen-related brain development.

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