Epigenetic research helps explain early-onset puberty in females

Researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) have published findings on the role of epigenetics in the control of puberty in females. The paper, published in the early online edition of Nature Neuroscience, explains how an epigenetic mechanism operating in the hypothalamus can regulate the timing of puberty. Using female rats, the researchers were able to determine that a group of proteins, called Polycomb Group (PcG) proteins, inhibit the activity of a gene known as Kiss1. When PcG protein levels drop far enough, Kiss1 is activated and puberty begins. Using their new-found knowledge, the researchers were able to prevent Kiss1 activation in female rats by increasing PcG protein levels in the hypothalamus through the use of targeted gene therapy.

“While it was always understood that an organism’s genes determine the timing of puberty, the role of epigenetics in this process has never been recorded until now,” said Alejandro Lomniczi, Ph.D., a scientist in the Division of Neuroscience at ONPRC.

Learn more by reading the OHSU news release.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (Grant: IOS1121691) and National Institutes of Health (Grants: HD025123-ARRA and 8P51OD011092) funded this research.