Cognitive outcome in adult women affected by congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency

Matthew A. Malouf, Claude J. Migeon, Kathryn A. Carson, Loredana Petrucci, Amy B. Wisniewski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Some research suggests that girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), who are exposed to higher than normal levels of prenatal androgens, perform better on spatial tasks, worse on verbal tasks and have a greater incidence of left-handedness than unaffected controls, all of which suggests the development of a more male-typical cognitive pattern. However, research in all three areas has produced inconsistent findings. Objectives: To determine if prenatal androgen exposure has an organizing effect on female cognitive development and to what extent. Methods: 24 women, 21-71 years, with either the salt-losing (SL) or simple virilizing (SV) forms of CAH due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency, and 18 controls, 21-73 years, who were unaffected female relatives or women with polycystic ovary syndrome, were assessed with IQ, handedness, executive function, verbal learning and memory, non-verbal learning and memory, perceptual speed, visuospatial processing and visuomotor ability measures. The battery included tests known to elicit sex differences and control measures. Results: The findings did not support the hypothesis that women with CAH develop a more male-typical cognitive pattern. Conclusion: This study differs from others in the older age of its participants, grouping by SL/SV diagnosis and assessment of medical treatment and compliance as determined through hormone assays. Our findings provide additional support for the conclusion that, in adult women with CAH, previous prenatal androgen exposure does not enhance spatial abilities, impair verbal abilities nor alter hand preferences in a long-lasting way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-150
Number of pages9
JournalHormone Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Cognition
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
  • Female pseudohermaphroditism
  • Handedness
  • Prenatal androgens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology

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