What Causes Teen Mood Swings
By Lucy Williams, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent
March 13, 2007
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Puberty brings mood swings and stress for many teenagers, sometimes making it difficult for them to cope during these transitional years. Now, new understanding of a stress hormone is bringing doctors closer to explaining and treating teen angst.
A new study demonstrates THP, a hormone normally released to relieve stress, reverses its effect during puberty. In adults, this stress hormone produces a calming effect and helps individuals adapt to stress. During puberty, the hormone actually increases anxiety.
"We found the steroid that normally relaxes you, at puberty in the female mouse, increases anxiety," lead author Sheryl S. Smith, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York, told Ivanhoe.
THP targets the GABA-A receptor, which is responsible for calming activity in the brain. Researchers studied THP in mice with hormone fluctuations similar to that of humans. THP reduced GABA-A receptor inhibition in pubescent mice, increasing brain activity and anxiety. Researchers report the receptor is dependent upon hormonal transitions, such as those of puberty. This finding may help doctors understand the causes of teen mood swings.
Dr. Smith said parents should understand there is a biological basis for adolescent moodiness. Parents should keep this in mind when approaching their child about stressful issues.
"Parents, just be aware that there is a biological basis for this and try and keep stress levels as low as possible. Be aware that situations that may not be as stressful for an adult may be stressful for a teenager," Dr. Smith said.
She said teen reactions and responses to stress vary widely.
"What might be realized as anxiety response in one teenager could be crying in another, anger in third and, in a fourth, could even be a violent act," said Dr. Smith. "That's saying the stress response in some children may be much more extreme than in others, and it's just good to understand that."
Dr. Smith said further research is necessary to explore stress prevention for adolescents. A mutation discovered during the study could help doctors eventually prevent teen mood swings.
"We identified a mutation of a receptor that could prevent a response, so we'd like to take a test a transgenic mouse with this mutated receptor," Dr. Smith told Ivanhoe. "Our hypothesis is the mutated mouse wouldn't have the anxiety response in puberty because the receptors with the mutations do not show the abnormal response to the steroid."
SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with Sheryl S. Smith, Ph.D.; Nature Neuroscience, published online March 11, 2007
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