The neural basis of puberty and adolescence

Nat Neurosci. 2004 Oct;7(10):1040-7. doi: 10.1038/nn1326.


The pubertal transition to adulthood involves both gonadal and behavioral maturation. A developmental clock, along with permissive signals that provide information on somatic growth, energy balance and season, time the awakening of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons at the onset of puberty. High-frequency GnRH release results from disinhibition and activation of GnRH neurons at puberty onset, leading to gametogenesis and an increase in gonadal steroid hormone secretion. Steroid hormones, in turn, both remodel and activate neural circuits during adolescent brain development, leading to the development of sexual salience of sensory stimuli, sexual motivation, and expression of copulatory behaviors in specific social contexts. These influences of hormones on reproductive behavior depend in part on changes in the adolescent brain that occur independently of gonadal maturation. Reproductive maturity is therefore the product of developmentally timed, brain-driven and recurrent interactions between steroid hormones and the adolescent nervous system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism*
  • Gonads / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / anatomy & histology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / growth & development*
  • Puberty / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology


  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone