Newswise — If your teenager doesn't act the way you expect--blame this hormone.
The "raging hormones" of puberty are known to produce mood swings and stress for most teenagers, making it difficult to cope with this period of life. Until now, the specific causes of pubertal anxiety have not been identified, making it harder to understand and treat adolescent angst. In the current edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers led by Sheryl S. Smith, PhD, professor of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, report findings demonstrating that a hormone normally released in response to stress, THP, actually reverses its effect at puberty, when it increases anxiety. This hormone normally acts like a tranquilizer, acting at sites in the brain that "calm" brain activity. In the adult, this stress hormone helps the individual adapt to stress, with a calming effect produced half an hour after the event. However, at puberty, molecular changes in the part of the brain that generates emotion, the limbic system, respond to this same stress hormone by increasing brain activity, an effect that ultimately increases the anxiety response. The researchers who reported this paradoxical effect of this stress hormone also identified the site on the human receptor (or "docking" ) molecule that produces the anxiety response, and were able to mutate the site to prevent this novel effect of the stress hormone. This new finding of a change in the effect of a stress hormone sheds new light on the "mood swings" of puberty.