December 15, 2015

It’s not just something your grandma says – everyone is growing up faster than they used to. With the average onset of puberty steadily declining, researchers at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, and the University of Pittsburgh wondered what was causing this increase in early bloomers. Their research led to the discovery of genes that regulate when puberty starts in nonhuman primates.

The Zinc finger, or ZNF, gene family comprises approximately 800 individual genes. Several of the genes in this group serve as a “neurobiological brake” that delay puberty until the end of childhood development. Without this biological pause button, developing kids would be more susceptible to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders.

“Deepening our understanding of how the brain controls the initiation of puberty will allow us to understand why girls are initiating puberty at much earlier ages,” said Dr. Alejandro Lomniczi, lead researcher on the study and assistant scientist for the Division of Neuroscience at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. “Our suspicion is that chemical substances contained in man-made products and other environmental factors, such as nutrition, may accelerate reproductive development by interfering with genetic repressors, such as ZNF.”

With this discovery guiding their work, researchers can optimize how they study the effect of environmental factors on puberty – another step forward in the work to help people live longer, healthier lives.

Back to top