Expanding the Developmental Boundaries of Etiologic Effects: The Role of Adrenarche in Genetic Influences on Disordered Eating in Males

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Abstract

Genetic influences on disordered eating (DE) increase across age and puberty in girls, an effect that is at least partially due to ovarian hormone activation. However, development shifts in genetic effects have not been detected in boys; genetic influences have been found to be relatively constant from prepuberty to adulthood, suggesting that gonadal hormones may be less important. One caveat is that studies have examined males ages 10 or older. Genetic effects on DE may emerge earlier in boys, such as during adrenarche, when androgens begin to increase but the physical changes of puberty are not yet observable. The current study investigated this hypothesis in 1,212 male twins (ages 6–28) from the Michigan State University Twin Registry. Results supported a potential role of adrenarche, as genetic influences on DE increased during middle childhood, prior to the external physical changes of puberty. Specifically, genetic influences on DE were negligible (0%) in twins during pre- to early adrenarche, but increased incrementally across advancing adrenarche (17% to 44%) and into early puberty (57%). Genetic effects then remained stable into midpuberty and postpuberty (58%), suggesting that nearly all of the genetic effects on DE become prominent during adrenarche in males. Findings suggest that genetic effects on DE emerge sooner in boys than the midpubertal activation that is consistently found in girls. These data highlight a potentially important role for adrenarche in the genetic diathesis for DE in males and a need to examine younger ages in studies of developmental effects.

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