Risk-taking behavior in adolescent mice: psychobiological determinants and early epigenetic influence

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2003 Jan-Mar;27(1-2):19-31. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(03)00006-x.


Epidemiological research has emphasized that adolescence is associated with some temperamental and behavioral traits that are typical of this age and that might substantially contribute to both psychological and psychobiological vulnerability. The contribution of the important developmental rearrangements in neurobiological and neuroendocrinological processes has received surprisingly little investigation. The present review summarizes recent work in animal models, indicating that adolescent rodents exhibit marked peculiarities in their spontaneous behavioral repertoire. When compared to adults, adolescents show an unbalanced and 'extremes-oriented' behavior, consisting of an increased novelty seeking, together with decreased novelty-induced stress and anxiety, an increased risk-taking behavior in the plus-maze, as well as elevated levels of impulsivity and restlessness. Age-related discontinuities in the function of monoaminergic systems, which are a main target of abused drugs, can perhaps account for such a profile. In particular, a peculiar function within reward-related dopaminergic brain pathways actually seems to underlie the search for novel and rewarding sensations, as well as changes in the magnitude of psychostimulant effects. The role played by early epigenetic factors in the shaping of novelty-seeking behavior of adolescent and adult rodents are also reviewed. Two examples are considered, namely, subtle variations in the hormonal milieu as a function of intrauterine position and precocious or delayed maturation of nutritional independence as a function of changes in time of weaning. As for spontaneous drug consumption, a prominent vulnerability to the oral intake of nicotine during early adolescence is reported. In conclusion, adolescence in rodents may represent a suitable animal model with enough face- and construct-validity. Actually, this model is able to show behavioral features that resemble those found in human adolescents, including vulnerability to the consumption of psychoactive drugs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / drug effects
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Reward
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology


  • Psychotropic Drugs