Cohn and Zheng, also members of the UF Genetics Institute, found that the developing digits of male and female mouse embryos are packed with receptors for sex hormones. By following the prenatal development of the limb buds of mice, which have a digit length ratio similar to humans, the scientists controlled the gene signaling effects of androgen also known as testosterone and estrogen.
Essentially, more androgen equated to a proportionally longer fourth digit. More estrogen resulted in a feminized appearance. The study uncovered how these hormonal signals govern the rate at which skeletal precursor cells divide, and showed that different finger bones have different levels of sensitivity to androgen and estrogen.
Since Roman times, people have associated the hand's fourth digit with the wearing of rings. In many cultures, a proportionally longer ring finger in men has been taken as a sign of fertility.
"I've been struggling to understand this trait since 1998," said John T. Manning, Ph.D., a professor at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the current research. "When I read this study, I thought, thank goodness, we've attracted the attention of a developmental biologist with all the sophisticated techniques of molecular genetics and biology."
In dozens of papers and two books, including the seminal "Digit Ratio" in 2002, Manning has studied the meaning of the relative lengths of second and fourth digits in humans, known to scientists as the 2D:4D ratio.
"When Zheng and Cohn blocked testosterone receptors, they got a female digit ratio," Manning said. "When they added testosterone they got super male ratios, and when they added estrogen, super female ratios. And they've provided us with a list of 19 genes that are sensitive to prenatal testosterone and prenatal estrogen.
"I find this completely convin
|Contact: John Pastor|
University of Florida