The couple a biochemical equivalent to Adam and Eve makes its sudden appearance in a region of the brain called the hypothalamus just as puberty begins, according to a study published in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Until now, little had been known about what instigates the cascade of hormone secretions that, over time, produces puberty's tell-tale physical changes, including the development of breasts in girls and voice change in boys. As such, this research begins to answer one of the most vexing questions about human development: What causes puberty to begin? How is it that the full repertoire of reproductive hormones can exist at birth, go into hiding at about four to six months of age, then reemerge in full force some 10 to 12 years later?
"Puberty is critical to human development. And while there is a fairly good understanding of how the endocrine system regulates the hormones involved, just how and when the brain activates this process has been a great mystery. An appreciation of puberty's deep-seated neurobiological mechanisms could, for instance, help prevent precocious or delayed puberty from occurring in some children," noted the study's lead author, Tony Plant, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of cell biology and physiology and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, as well as director of the Center for Research in Reproductive Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The research, performed in collaboration with teams at Harvard University's Massachusetts General Hospital and the Oregon National Primate Re