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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Jul;37(7):881-91. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.10.004. Epub 2011 Nov 8.

Pituitary volume mediates the relationship between pubertal timing and depressive symptoms during adolescence.

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Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Australia.


Early timing of puberty (i.e., advanced pubertal maturation relative to peers) has been linked to the onset of depressive symptoms during the early adolescent phase. However, the precise neurobiological mechanisms linking early pubertal timing to adolescent depressive symptoms are not clear. We investigated whether the volume of the pituitary gland, a key component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes, mediated the relationship between pubertal timing and depressive symptoms in 155 adolescents (72 females) both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. At baseline (M age 12.7, SD 0.5 years), early pubertal timing predicted larger pituitary gland volume and higher depressive symptoms (especially for girls), but there was no mediation effect. Longitudinally, however, larger pituitary gland volume at baseline was found to mediate the relationship between early pubertal timing and increased depressive symptoms over time (M follow-up period=2.57 years, SD=0.26) for both boys and girls. Our findings suggest that neurobiological mechanisms are partly responsible for the link between early pubertal timing and depressive symptoms in adolescents. We speculate that an enlarged pituitary gland in adolescents with early pubertal timing might be associated with hyperactivation of the hormonal stress response, leading to increased susceptibility to environmental stressors, and subsequent development of depressive symptoms. Given the well-established relationship between increasing depressive symptoms in adolescence and later disorder, these findings have implications for targeted prevention and early intervention strategies for depressive disorders in adolescence.

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