London: In a first-of-its-kind study of puberty timing in men, researchers have revealed strong genetic correlation between male and female puberty timing.
Scientists show that the timing of puberty in males and females is influenced by many of the same-shared genetic factors.
“Although there are obvious physical differences in pubertal development between boys and girls, many of the underlying biological processes governing it are the same,” said Dr Felix Day from University of Cambridge.
The study focused on the genetic regions that influence age at voice breaking — a distinct developmental milestone that happens to young men as their larynx (voice box) lengthens when exposed to male hormones.
The results showed that the age when men’s voices break, even when recalled decades after the event, is an informative measure of puberty timing.
Previous work had identified 106 genetic variants that alter puberty timing in females.
The current study shows that those same genetic factors have very similar effects on male puberty timing.
The team looked at genetic information of more than 55,000 male ’23andMe’ customers who consented to participate in research.
Following this first analysis, the collected data was compared to existing data from more than 250,000 women.
Until now, most of the understanding of the biological regulation of puberty timing has come from large studies of healthy women.
“Research has been scarce in men, largely because investigators have disregarded the accuracy that men can recall pubertal events,” explained lead researcher Dr John Perry from University of Cambridge.
In addition, the study finds five new genetic variants associated with puberty timing, some acting through known hormone pathways, others through previously overlooked hormone pathways.
For most diseases, earlier puberty appeared genetically linked to poorer health outcomes.
There was already good evidence in women that earlier puberty timing leads to higher risks for health outcomes later in life such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
“We now show that the same is true in men. The next steps will be to understand how to prevent early puberty in boys and girls, possibly by reducing childhood overweight and obesity, or by other means,” added co-lead author Dr Ken Ong.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, was done by the team from University of Cambridge and 23andMe — a privately-held personal genomics and biotechnology company based in Mountain View, California.