The Handbook of Stress: Neuropsychological Effects on the Brain

By Cheryl D. Conrad | Go to book overview

13
Adolescence and Stress
From Hypothalamic–Pituitary–
Adrenal Function to Brain Development

Russell D. Romeo and Ilia N. Karatsoreos


Introduction

Adolescent maturation is marked by major gains in both physiological and neuropsychological function (Spear, 2000, 2010; Steinberg, 2008). Yet, despite these developmental gains, adolescence is also associated with many neurobehavioral vulnerabilities (Andersen, 2003; Dahl, 2004), including depression, anxiety, and drug abuse (Conger and Petersen, 1984; Masten, 1987; Spear, 2000; Costello et al., 2003; Patton and Viner, 2007; Spear, 2010). Although it is presently unclear what mediates the pubertal increase in these dysfunctions, recent studies in adolescent boys and girls point to adolescent exposure to stress as a particularly important factor that contributes to these vulnerabilities (Ge et al., 1994, 2001; Seiffge-Krenke, 2000; Goodyer, 2002; Grant et al., 2003, 2004; Turner and Lloyd, 2004).

A growing body of literature from both human and animal studies indicates that many cortical and limbic brain regions implicated in cognitive and emotional function continue to mature well into the adolescent stage of maturation (Giedd, 2004, 2008; Juraska and Markham, 2004; Spear, 2010). For instance, frontal gray-matter volume decreases during adolescence (Giedd et al., 1999; Gogtay et al., 2004), while hippocampal and amygdalar volumes increase (Giedd et al., 1996; Giedd, 2008). Although these structural changes in the adolescent brain appear to be part of normal development, it is noteworthy that the regions demonstrating this substantial postpubertal maturation are also exquisitely sensitive to the glucocorticoids (McEwen, 2005; McEwen, 2007). Thus, exposure to stressors during adolescence may perturb the normal developmental trajectory of neural circuits imperative in modulating cognitive processes and emotionality.

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