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Gene Study Gives New Insight Into Puberty in Girls
Date:7/23/2014

body weight are all influences, but there are probably many other factors involved, too, Perry pointed out.

"We identified over 100 regions of the genome that were associated with puberty timing," he said. "However, our analyses suggest there are likely to be thousands of gene variants -- and possibly genes -- involved."

The implication, Perry said, is that "puberty timing is a much more complex process than we might have originally thought."

Dr. Patricia Vuguin, a pediatric endocrinologist at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., agreed. "Many of these (genes) are completely novel and have never been associated with puberty before," said Vuguin, who was not involved in the study.

Right now, she noted, there is a lot of interest in the factors that influence the timing of puberty -- in part, because children these days are starting puberty at an earlier age, compared with a few decades ago.

The rising tide of childhood obesity is considered a key reason, but studies have found that it's not the whole story.

Often, Vuguin said, parents think if they change something in their child's diet -- like feeding them only organic foods -- that will ensure a "healthy" age at puberty.

"But this (study) is saying, it's not that simple," Vuguin said. "It's not only about body fat, or about what you eat. It's much more complicated than that."

One of the big discoveries, according to Perry, was that a "special set" of genes, known as imprinted genes, may help govern puberty timing. With most genes, we inherit one copy from each parent, and both of those copies are active. Imprinted genes are different; only the copy from one parent is active, while the other is "silent."

Researchers have thought that imprinted genes were important only before birth, for fetal growth and development.

"Our study supports the idea that these genes continue to play a role in later-life health and disease," Perry said.

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