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Alexander S Busch, Casper P Hagen, and Anders Juul

Objective

Pubertal timing is highly heritable. Observational studies were inconclusive concerning a potential sex-specific difference in the parental contribution, while genome-wide association studies highlighted a heterogeneity in the genetic architecture of pubertal timing between sexes. Our objectives were to evaluate the association of timing of pubertal milestones in offspring with parental pubertal timing and to identify the genetic basis of the heterogeneity.

Design

(1.) Population-based mixed cross-sectional/longitudinal cohort (2006–2014, COPENHAGEN Puberty Study) comprising 1381 healthy Danish children including their parents. (2.) UK Biobank-based summary statistics of genetic data on timing of menarche (n = 188 644), voice-break (n = 154 459) and facial hair (n = 161 470).

Methods

(1.) Participants underwent clinical examination(s) including blood sampling. Parental pubertal timing was obtained by questionnaire. Timing of milestones were analyzed using SAS-lifereg. (2.) Genetic correlations between pubertal outcomes were estimated using LD Score regression. Genetic heterogeneity was analyzed using METAL.

Results

We observed significant associations of relative parental pubertal timing with timing of pubertal milestones in offspring of concordant sex, that is, fathers/sons (e.g. testicular enlargement: P = 0.004, β = 0.34 years per relative category) and mothers/daughters (e.g. thelarche: P < 0.001, β = 0.45 years per relative category). Fewer milestones were associated with relative parental pubertal timing in offspring of discordant sex compared to concordant sex. Large-scale genetic data highlight both moderate to strong genetic correlations between timing of menarche, voice-break and facial hair. Out of 434 lead single-nucleotide polymorphisms significantly associated with at least one outcome, 39 exhibited a significant genetic heterogeneity between sexes (P < 1.15 × 10−4).

Conclusion

Our results highlight a distinct genetic heterogeneity of pubertal timing between sexes.