The relationship between Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, sex steroids and timing of the pubertal growth spurt

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Progress through puberty involves a complex hormonal cascade, but the individual contributions of hormones, particularly IGF-1, are unknown. We reanalysed Chard growth study data to explore the tempo of puberty based on changes in both height and hormone levels, using a novel method of growth curve analysis.

Design and Subjects

Schoolboys (n = 54) and girls (n = 70) from Chard, Somerset, England, recruited in 1981 at age 8/9 and followed to age 16.


Every 6 months, height and Tanner stages (genitalia, breast, pubic hair) were recorded, and in a subsample (24 boys, 27 girls), blood samples were taken. Serum IGF-1, testosterone (boys) and oestradiol (girls) were measured by radioimmunoassay. Individual growth curves for each outcome were analysed using variants of the super-imposition by translation and rotation (SITAR) method, which estimates a mean curve and subject-specific random effects corresponding to size, and age and magnitude of peak velocity.


The SITAR models fitted the data well, explaining 99%, 65%, 86% and 47% of variance for height, IGF-1, testosterone and oestradiol, respectively, and 69–88% for the Tanner stages. During puberty, the variables all increased steeply in value in individuals, the ages at peak velocity for the different variables being highly correlated, particularly for IGF-1 vs height (r = 0·74 for girls, 0·92 for boys).


IGF-1, like height, the sex steroids and Tanner stages, rises steeply in individuals during puberty, with the timings of the rises tightly synchronized within individuals. This suggests that IGF-1 may play an important role in determining the timing of puberty.

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