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Pitt team finds teen brains over-process rewards, suggesting root of risky behavior, mental ills
Date:1/26/2011

cal disturbances, Moghaddam said. The type of erratic activity in the cortex that she and Sturman observed could aggravate these conditions at a time when the maturing brain is vulnerable.

"The symptoms of these illnesses generally begin to appear during adolescence," Moghaddam said. "Adolescence is a period of behavioral and psychiatric vulnerabilities, so the disorganized brain activity and excess excitation could push a brain already predisposed to mental disorders too far, triggering the onset of symptoms."

The study is the first to record and compare individual neuron activity in adult and adolescent brains during the performance of a task. Moghaddam and Sturman presented adult and adolescent ratswhich exhibit behavioral and biological similarities to adult and teenage humanswith three holes to poke their noses through; the rats each received a sugar pellet when they chose the center hole.

Brain activity in the adolescents was similar to that of the adults most of the time but striking differences arose when the younger rats retrieved rewards. As each of the adult rats collected a sugar pellet, the orbitofrontal cortex neurons showed the normal increase in both excitation and inhibition, with consistent levels of each impulse throughout the study.

Adolescents, on the other hand, exhibited surges of excitation that ranged from twice to four times the levels in adults. At the same time, the inhibitory impulses in the adolescents' brains barely changed from the low levels they experienced before receiving the sugar pellet.


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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mekelly@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh
Source:Eurekalert  

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