Adolescence is a critical stage for the development of emotional maturity and diverse forms of psychopathology. The posterior basolateral nucleus of the amygdala is known to mediate fear and anxiety and is important in assigning emotional valence to cognitive processes. The medial prefrontal cortex, a homologue of the human anterior cingulate cortex, mediates emotional, attentional, and motivational behaviors at the cortical level. We postulate that the development of connectivity between these two corticolimbic regions contributes to an enhanced integration of emotion and cognition during the postnatal period. In order to characterize the development of this relay, injections of the anterograde tracer biocytin were stereotaxically placed within the posterior basolateral nucleus of the amygdala of rats at successive postnatal time points (postnatal days 6-120). Labeled fibers in the medial prefrontal cortex were evaluated using a combination of brightfield, confocal, and electron microscopy. We found that the density of labeled fibers originating from the posterior basolateral nucleus shows a sharp curvilinear increase within layers II and V of the anterior cingulate cortex and the infralimbic subdivisions of medial prefrontal cortex during the late postweanling period. This increase was paralleled by a linear rise in the number of axospinous and axodendritic synapses present in the neuropil. Based on these results, we propose that late maturation of amygdalo-cortical connectivity may provide an anatomical basis for the development and integration of normal and possibly abnormal emotional behavior during adolescence and early adulthood.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.