A biological trigger of early puberty is uncovered by Northeastern scientists

The onset of puberty has been creeping downward for decades.

In the United States, the average age of girls reaching puberty ranges from 8.8 to 10.3 years old. The early start of puberty, which is associated with many health risks, can be triggered by chronic stress in children.

New research by Northeastern scientists has identified for the first time that early life stress affects the part of the brain — specifically, a protein in the membrane of a cell — responsible for preventing premature inception of puberty.

The brain receptor can suppress the release of hormones, or put the “brakes” on early puberty. The receptor malfunctions under chronic stress, unleashing a cascade of messaging that leads to early initiation of puberty, according to Northeastern researchers.

Children with early puberty are at risk of developing cancers of the reproductive tract, metabolic syndromes such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, emotional and social problems later in adulthood, according to studies.

Researchers hope the findings will lead to medical interventions in the future.

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Photo by Ruby Wall/Northeastern University

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