, Volume 35, Issue 6, pp 735-744

Opposite Effects of Androgen Receptor CAG Repeat Length on Increased Risk of Left-Handedness in Males and Females

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Abstract

Prenatal exposure to testosterone has been hypothesised to effect lateralization by influencing cell death in the foetal brain. Testosterone binds to the X chromosome linked androgen receptor, which contains a polymorphic polyglutamine CAG repeat, the length of which is positively correlated with testosterone levels in males, and negatively correlated in females. To determine whether the length of the androgen receptor mediates the effects of testosterone on laterality, we examined the association between the number of CAG repeats in the androgen receptor gene and handedness for writing. Association was tested by adding regression terms for the length of the androgen receptor alleles to a multi-factorial-threshold model of liability to left-handedness. In females we found the risk of left-handedness was greater in those with a greater number of repeats (p=0.04), this finding was replicated in a second independent sample of female twins (p=0.014). The length of the androgen receptor explained 6% of the total variance and 24% of the genetic variance in females. In males the risk of left-handedness was greater in those with fewer repeats (p=0.02), with variation in receptor length explaining 10% of the total variance and 24% of the genetic variance. Thus, consistent with Witelson’s theory of testosterone action, in all three samples the likelihood of left handedness increased in those individuals with variants of the androgen receptor associated with lower testosterone levels.