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In order to understand puberty, it is important to know about the hormones that are responsible for puberty, as well as the female and male reproductive organs that are affected by these hormones. Two areas of the brain produce the hormones that are needed for puberty: the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus, among many other functions, controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst. The pituitary gland is a pea-sized organ attached to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland. These signals cause the pituitary gland to make hormones that control other glands and many of the body’s functions, including growth. Puberty starts when the hypothalamus releases a hormone called the gonadotropin-releasing hormone. The gonadotropin-releasing hormone tells the pituitary gland to release two more hormones: the follicle-stimulating hormone and the luteinizing hormone. These hormones signal the start of sexual development in both boys and girls. In girls, the hormones act on the ovaries. The ovaries are two small glands, located in the pelvis, with 2 main functions:
  1. The production of specialized hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone.
  2. Ovulation, which is the release of eggs needed for reproduction. Ovulation is controlled by many hormones.
For girls, puberty begins when the specialized hormones tell the ovaries to begin producing another hormone, known as estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for most of the changes in a girl’s body during puberty. It causes her body to mature and prepare for pregnancy. In males, the follicle-stimulating hormone and the luteinizing hormone act on the testicles. The testicles, or testes, are two egg-shaped glands that produce sperm and male hormones. They are located in the scrotum at the base of the penis. When the hormones that signal the beginning of puberty reach the testes, boys begin to produce testosterone and sperm. Testosterone is a hormone responsible for most of the changes a boy’s body goes through during puberty. Sperm cells are necessary for reproduction. During puberty, girls and boys develop at different rates and in different ways. The following section examines the physical changes that affect girls and boys once their glands begin producing the specialized hormones responsible for these changes: estrogen for girls and testosterone for boys.




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Last modified: November 19, 2012