Childhood ecology influences salivary testosterone, pubertal age and stature of Bangladeshi UK migrant men

Abstract

Male reproductive investment is energetically costly, and measures of human reproductive steroid hormones (testosterone), developmental tempo (pubertal timing) and growth (stature) correlate with local ecologies at the population level. It is unclear whether male reproductive investment in later life is ‘set’ during childhood development, mediated through adulthood, or varies by ethnicity. Applying a life-course model to Bangladeshi migrants to the United Kingdom, here we investigate plasticity in human male reproductive function resulting from childhood developmental conditions. We hypothesized that childhood ecology shapes adult trade-offs between reproductive investment and/or other fitness-related traits. We predicted correspondence between these traits and developmental timing of exposure to ecological constraints (Bangladesh) or conditions of surplus (United Kingdom). We compared: Bangladesh sedentees (n = 107); Bangladeshi men who migrated in childhood to the United Kingdom (n = 59); migrants who arrived in adulthood (n = 75); second-generation UK-born and raised children of Bangladeshi migrants (n = 56); and UK-born ethnic Europeans (n = 62). Migration before puberty predicted higher testosterone and an earlier recalled pubertal age compared with Bangladeshi sedentees or adult migrants, with more pronounced differences in men who arrived before the age of eight. Second-generation Bangladeshis were taller, with higher testosterone than sedentees and adult migrants, and higher waking testosterone than Europeans. Age-related testosterone profiles varied by group, declining in UK migrants, increasing in sedentees, and having no significant relationship within UK-born groups. We conclude that male reproductive function apparently remains plastic late into childhood, is independent of Bengali or European ethnicity, and shapes physiological trade-offs later in life.

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Fig. 1: Linear regression of standing height by age at recruitment and migration.
Fig. 2: Resident group least squares mean salivary testosterone values, adjusted for age and BMI.
Fig. 3: Composite recalled age at puberty by age at migration.
Fig. 4: Daily mean salivary testosterone by age at migration.

Change history

  • 23 July 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, the units for the ‘Weight’ column in Table 1 were incorrect; they should have been kg. This has now been corrected.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank K. Begum, O. Choudhury, A. Chowdhury, D. Lawson, Z. Salehin, T. Sharmeen and students of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology for assistance with recruitment, translation and data collection, and the Bengali Workers Association, Chadswell Community Centre and Bengali Football Association for providing facilities and promotion. We thank L. Houghton, R. Mace and A. Núñez-de la Mora for advice on study implementation, and H. Colleran and A. Alvergne for comments on previous drafts. This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (PTA-030-2005-00706), Prostate Research Campaign UK (G2003-07), and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (to G.R.B., UF951006).

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K.M. and G.R.B. designed the study and drafted the manuscript. K.M. carried out all data and laboratory analysis. K.M. and F.U.A. supervised and performed the data collection. R.T.C. designed, advised and assisted with laboratory analysis.

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Correspondence to Kesson Magid.

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Magid, K., Chatterton, R.T., Ahamed, F.U. et al. Childhood ecology influences salivary testosterone, pubertal age and stature of Bangladeshi UK migrant men. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1146–1154 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0567-6

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