Monoamine-sensitive developmental periods impacting adult emotional and cognitive behaviors

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Jan;40(1):88-112. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.231. Epub 2014 Sep 2.


Development passes through sensitive periods, during which plasticity allows for genetic and environmental factors to exert indelible influence on the maturation of the organism. In the context of central nervous system development, such sensitive periods shape the formation of neurocircuits that mediate, regulate, and control behavior. This general mechanism allows for development to be guided by both the genetic blueprint as well as the environmental context. While allowing for adaptation, such sensitive periods are also vulnerability windows during which external and internal factors can confer risk to disorders by derailing otherwise resilient developmental programs. Here we review developmental periods that are sensitive to monoamine signaling and impact adult behaviors of relevance to psychiatry. Specifically, we review (1) a serotonin-sensitive period that impacts sensory system development, (2) a serotonin-sensitive period that impacts cognition, anxiety- and depression-related behaviors, and (3) a dopamine- and serotonin-sensitive period affecting aggression, impulsivity and behavioral response to psychostimulants. We discuss preclinical data to provide mechanistic insight, as well as epidemiological and clinical data to point out translational relevance. The field of translational developmental neuroscience has progressed exponentially providing solid conceptual advances and unprecedented mechanistic insight. With such knowledge at hand and important methodological innovation ongoing, the field is poised for breakthroughs elucidating the developmental origins of neuropsychiatric disorders, and thus understanding pathophysiology. Such knowledge of sensitive periods that determine the developmental trajectory of complex behaviors is a necessary step towards improving prevention and treatment approaches for neuropsychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*


  • Biogenic Monoamines