January 2012

Understanding precocious puberty


MCP_coverWhen stricken with precocious puberty, children begin sexual development too soon. In boys, the condition can strike before age 9, and it can begin in girls before age 8. The condition causes the children to be short in stature and suffer from psychological and social problems. “Researchers think childhood obesity may be playing a role in the phenomenon, since body fat increases production of estrogen, which helps trigger puberty,” explains Wei Jia at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. To diagnose the condition, doctors have to go through a time-consuming process of physical exams, MRI scans and other tests. To better understand precocious puberty and to diagnose it more efficiently and effectively, Jia, along with Yongyu Zhang at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Guoxiang Xie at UNC-Greensboro, led a team to identify metabolic markers in urine samples from more than 100 patients and 50 healthy children. In a recent paper in Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, the investigators described their finding that three major metabolic pathways — catecholamine metabolism, serotonin metabolism and the tricarboxylic acid cycle — didn’t function normally in precocious puberty patients, probably because the sympathetic nervous system and the endocrine system were disrupted. They also found hints that patients who suffered from a subtype of the condition that directly involves the endocrine system had alterations in their gut microbiome. In separate research, constituents of the gut microbiome have been correlated with a propensity to obesity.

Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay (rmukhopadhyay@asbmb.org) is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and the technical editor for the JBC.

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