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Male-female ring finger proportions tied to sex hormones in embryo; may offer health insights
Date:9/5/2011

Biologists at the University of Florida have found a reason why men's ring fingers are generally longer than their index fingers and why the reverse usually holds true for women.

The finding could help medical professionals understand the origin of behavior and disease, which may be useful for customizing treatments or assessing risks in context with specific medical conditions.

Writing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, developmental biologists Martin Cohn, Ph.D., and Zhengui Zheng, Ph.D., of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the department of molecular genetics and microbiology at the UF College of Medicine, show that male and female digit proportions are determined by the balance of sex hormones during early embryonic development. Differences in how these hormones activate receptors in males and females affect the growth of specific digits.

The discovery provides a genetic explanation for a raft of studies that link finger proportions with traits ranging from sperm counts, aggression, musical ability, sexual orientation and sports prowess, to health problems such as autism, depression, heart attack and breast cancer.

It has long been suspected that the digit ratio is influenced by sex hormones, but until now direct experimental evidence was lacking.

"The discovery that growth of the developing digits is controlled directly by androgen and estrogen receptor activity confirms that finger proportions are a lifelong signature of our early hormonal milieu," Cohn said. "In addition to understanding the basis of one of the more bizarre differences between the sexes, it's exciting to think that our fingers can tell us something about the signals that we were exposed to during a short period of our time in the womb. There is growing evidence that a number of adult diseases have fetal origins. With the new data, we've shown that that the digit ratio reflects one's prenatal and
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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