Age at menarche, a sentinel index of pubertal maturation, was examined in relation to early family relationships (conflict, cohesion) and polymorphic variation in the gene encoding estrogen receptor-α (ESR1) in a midlife sample of 455 European American women. Consistent with prior literature, women who reported being raised in families characterized by close interpersonal relationships and little conflict tended to reach menarche at a later age than participants reared in families lacking cohesion and prone to discord. Moreover, this association was moderated by ESR1 variation, such that quality of the family environment covaried positively with menarcheal age among participants homozygous for minor alleles of the two ESR1 polymorphisms studied here (rs9304799, rs2234693), but not among women of other ESR1 genotypes. In addition, (a) family relationship variables were unrelated to ESR1 variation, and (b) genotype-dependent effects of childhood environment on age at menarche could not be accounted for by personality traits elsewhere shown to explain heritable variation in reported family conflict and cohesion. These findings are consistent with theories of differential susceptibility to environmental influence, as well as the more specific hypothesis (by Belsky) that girls differ genetically in their sensitivity to rearing effects on pubertal maturation.
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