Stress and the Adolescent Brain

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Dec;1094:202-14. doi: 10.1196/annals.1376.022.


During adolescence the brain shows remarkable changes in both structure and function. The plasticity exhibited by the brain during this pubertal period may make individuals more vulnerable to perturbations, such as stress. Although much is known about how exposure to stress and stress hormones during perinatal development and adulthood affect the structure and function of the brain, relatively little is known about how the pubertal brain responds to stress. Furthermore, it is not clear whether stressors experienced during adolescence lead to altered physiological and behavioral potentials in adulthood, as has been shown for perinatal development. The purpose of this review is to present what is currently known about the pubertal maturation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the neuroendocrine axis that mediates the stress response, and discuss what is currently known about how stressors affect the adolescent brain. Our dearth of knowledge regarding the effects of stress on the pubertal brain will be discussed in the context of our accumulating knowledge regarding stress-induced neuronal remodeling in the adult. Finally, as the adolescent brain is capable of such profound plasticity during this developmental stage, we will also explore the possibility of adolescence as a period of interventions and opportunities to mitigate negative consequences from earlier developmental insults.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology
  • Puberty / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*