Evidence for sexually dimorphic associations between maternal characteristics and anogenital distance, a marker of reproductive development

American Journal of Epidemiology , Vol. 179 (1) Jan 2014

Emily Barrett, Lauren Parlett, J Redmon, and Shanna Swan


Data from animal models, historical cohorts, and modern epidemiologic studies have suggested that maternal characteristics can affect reproductive health of offspring; however, distinguishing between prenatal and postnatal contributions is difficult. Anogenital distance (AGD), the distance from the anus to the genitals, is believed to be a biomarker of prenatal androgen exposure in many species, and in humans it has been associated with several adult reproductive health outcomes. We used data from a pregnancy cohort study conducted in 4 US cities from 1999–2005 to examine whether AGD measurements in infants were associated with maternal self-reported age at conception, age at menarche, age at first birth, parity, and gravidity. AGD was measured in 289 infants (140 male, 149 female) born to study participants. After adjustment for relevant covariates, in linear regression models stratified by infant sex, maternal age was positively associated with AGD in male infants (AGD, anus to penis: β = 0.50, P = 0.002; AGD, anus to scrotum: β = 0.29, P = 0.02) but not female infants. Parity was inversely associated with AGD (anus to scrotum; β = −1.68, P = 0.03) in male infants. No other maternal characteristic predicted AGD in either sex. The mechanism underlying the unexpected relationship between maternal characteristics and AGD is unknown; however, we suggest several possibilities for future study.