The role of experience in adolescent cognitive development: Integration of executive, memory, and mesolimbic systems

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Nov;70:46-58. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.07.034. Epub 2016 Jul 28.


Adolescence marks a time of unique neurocognitive development, in which executive functions reach adult levels of maturation. While many core facets of executive function may reach maturation in childhood, these processes continue to be refined and stabilized during adolescence. We propose that this is mediated, in part, by interactions between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Specifically, we propose that development of this circuit refines adolescents' ability to extract relevant information from prior experience to support task-relevant behavior. In support of this model, we review evidence for protracted structural and functional development both within and across the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. We describe emerging research demonstrating the refinement of adolescents' ability to integrate prior experiences to support goal-oriented behavior, which parallel hippocampal-prefrontal integration. Finally, we speculate that the development of this circuit is mediated by increases in dopaminergic neuromodulation present in adolescence, which may underlie memory processing, plasticity, and circuit integration. This model provides a novel characterization of how memory and executive systems integrate throughout adolescence to support adaptive behavior.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory*
  • Prefrontal Cortex