N Tuong-Vi, Jutras B, Monnier P, Muckle G, Velez MP, Arbuckle TE, Saint-Amour D. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2019 Feb 14;104:33-41. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.02.015.
Sex differences in inner-ear function are detectable in infants, notably through the measurement of otoacoustic emissions (OAEs). Prevailing theories posit that prenatal exposure to high levels of androgens in boys may weaken OAEs, and that this phenomenon may predominantly affect the right ear/left hemisphere (Geschwind-Galaburda (GG) hypothesis). Yet, actual tests of these models have been difficult to implement in humans. Here we examined the relationship between markers of fetal androgen exposure collected at birth (anogenital distances (AGD); penile length/width, areolar/scrotal/vulvar pigmentation) and at 6 months of age (2nd to 4th digit ratio (2D:4D)) with two types of OAEs, click-evoked OAEs (CEOAEs) and distortion-product OAEs (DPOAEs) (n = 49; 25 boys; 24 girls). We found that, in boys, scrotal pigmentation was inversely associated with the amplitude and reproducibility of CEOAEs in the right ear at 4 kHz, with trends also present in the same ear for mean CEOAE amplitude and CEOAE amplitude at 2 kHz. Penile length was inversely associated with the mean amplitude of DPOAEs in both the right and left ears, as well as with DPOAE amplitude in the right ear at 2 kHz and the reproducibility of CEOAEs in the left ear at 2.8 kHz. Finally, AGD-scrotum in boys was positively associated in boys with the amplitude of DPOAEs in the left ear at 2.8 kHz. Unexpectedly, there were no sex differences in the amplitude or reproducibility of OAEs, nor, in girls, any associations between androgenic markers and auditory function. Nonetheless, these findings, reported for the first time in a sample of human infants, support both the prenatal-androgen-exposure and GG models as explanations for the masculinization of auditory function in male infants.