Under physiological conditions, factors affecting the genetic control of hypothalamic functions are predominant in determining the individual variations in timing of pubertal onset. In pathological conditions, however, these variations can involve different genetic susceptibility and the interaction of environmental factors. The high incidence of precocious puberty in foreign children migrating to Belgium and the detection in their plasma of a long-lasting 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl) ethane (DDT) residue suggest the potential role of environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals in the early onset of puberty. This hypothesis was confirmed by experimental data showing that temporary exposure of immature female rats to DDT in vivo results in early onset of puberty. We compared the gene expression profile of hypothalamic hamartoma associated or not with precocious puberty in order to identify gene networks responsible for both hamartoma-dependent sexual precocity and the onset of normal human puberty. In conclusion, pathological variations in the timing of puberty may provide unique information about the interactions of either environmental conditions or genetic susceptibility with the hypothalamic mechanism controlling the onset of sexual maturation, as shown by examples of precocious puberty following exposure to endocrine disrupters or due to hypothalamic hamartoma.

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