It has long been known that humans with good nutrition tend to grow taller and mature more quickly, and that signals about the body’s nutritional health are sent to the hypothalamus, but how this process is controlled has not previously been understood. A new study co-authored by Sarah Finer (Centre for Primary Care) has shown that the Melanocortin 3 receptor (MC3R) in the brain regulates the rate of linear growth and timing of sexual maturation, which are energy-sensitive processes. Researchers used whole-exome sequence data from approximately 200,000 UK Biobank participants, and found that humans who carry loss-of-function mutations in MC3R have a later onset of puberty, and reduced linear growth and lean mass. Media reports on the research have hailed the results as “the solution to the puzzle of why humans are growing taller and reaching puberty earlier than ever before”. Researchers say that the discovery could lead to drugs to improve muscle mass and treat delayed growth.
Lam, B.Y.H., Williamson, A., Finer, S. et al. MC3R links nutritional state to childhood growth and the timing of puberty. Nature (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04088-9