Researchers discover a possible link between puberty and environmental impact – University of Copenhagen

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05 July 2016

Researchers discover a possible link between puberty and environmental impact

EPIGENETICS

As the first in the world, Danish researchers from EDMaRC at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen have described how environmental impacts in principle can alter the onset of puberty. In the study, which has just been published in the scientific journal, Scientific Reports, researchers have examined how chemical modifications in genomes change as girls and boys enter puberty. These epigenetic changes, which may be influenced by the environment, control so-called DNA methylation, i.e. when and where specific genes are expressed.

Researchers have come across a number of areas in the genome that are epigenetically controlled during puberty. One example is the new “puberty gene” TRIP6, which is increasingly expressed through puberty exactly because of changes to the epigenetic control of the gene.

Epigenetics denotes the connection between genes and environment. Environmental factors in the widest sense may influence the so-called epigenetic regulation of genes and thereby control whether and to which degree genes are expressed.

“The close connection between the development of puberty and epigenetic regulation, revealed in this new study, points to the effect environment has on puberty and thus establishes a possible link between puberty and environmental impact,” says Professor Anders Juul from the Department of Clinical Medicine, UCPH, who is behind the study.

“Changes in DNA methylation patterns may be caused by many different factors. However, we were able to observe very specific changes when children passed through puberty and we have subsequently shown that this also leads to changes in the expression of the genes that hosted the methylation,” Senior Researcher of Epigenetics, Kristian Almstrup, explains. He was responsible for the examination.

Within a short period of time, the age at which girls enter puberty has been reduced with approx. 12 months. This cannot be due to genetic changes. However, changes in the age at which children enter puberty can be caused by the epigenetic changes now identified by researchers.

About the study

Blood samples from girls and boys, extracted before and during puberty, have been examined for changes in the DNA methylation patterns (epigenetic control). The children were part of the large COPENHAGEN Puberty Study, based at Rigshospitalet’s Clinic for Growth and Preproduction and EDMaRC.

The study was published in the scientific journal, Scientific Reports, available here