PORTLAND -- Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University now have a better understanding of what prompts early onset puberty in girls.

The study was done at the school's primate research center and involved female rats, which, like humans, also go through puberty.

Results were published in Nature Neuroscience. (subscription required)

The study focused on what's called epigenetics, the study of factors that change inherited traits, without altering someone's DNA.

The research isolated a specific protein group needed to reach puberty. Those proteins, researchers determined, act as a switch for the gene that initiates puberty.

The researchers were then able to delay puberty in female rats. In short, the research may help determine a way to more clearly define environmental factors that affect the onset of puberty, not just via a person's DNA.

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