Adolescent development, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function, and programming of adult learning and memory

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Jun 30;34(5):756-65. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2009.09.019. Epub 2009 Sep 25.

Abstract

Chronic exposure to stress is known to affect learning and memory in adults through the release of glucocorticoid hormones by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In adults, glucocorticoids alter synaptic structure and function in brain regions that express high levels of glucocorticoid receptors and that mediate goal-directed behaviour and learning and memory. In contrast to relatively transient effects of stress on cognitive function in adulthood, exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids in early life can produce enduring changes through substantial remodeling of the developing nervous system. Adolescence is another time of significant brain development and maturation of the HPA axis, thereby providing another opportunity for glucocorticoids to exert programming effects on neurocircuitry involved in learning and memory. These topics are reviewed, as is the emerging research evidence in rodent models highlighting that adolescence may be a period of increased vulnerability compared to adulthood in which exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids results in enduring changes in adult cognitive function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / growth & development
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / growth & development
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*