The Role of the Endocannabinoid System and Genetic Variation in Adolescent Brain Development

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Jan;43(1):21-33. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.143. Epub 2017 Jul 7.


During adolescence, both rodent and human studies have revealed dynamic changes in the developmental trajectories of corticolimbic structures, which are known to contribute to the regulation of fear and anxiety-related behaviors. The endocannabinoid (eCB) system critically regulates stress responsivity and anxiety throughout the life span. Emerging evidence suggests that during adolescence, changes in eCB signaling contribute to the maturation of local and corticolimbic circuit populations of neurons, such as mediating the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission within the prefrontal cortex. This function of the eCB system facilitates efficient communication within and between brain regions and serves a central role in establishing complex and adaptive cognitive and behavioral processing. Although these peri-adolescent changes in eCB signaling promote brain development and plasticity, they also render this period a particularly sensitive one for environmental perturbations to these normative fluctuations in eCB signaling, such as stress, potentially leading to altered developmental trajectories of neural circuits governing emotional behaviors. In this review, we focus on the role of eCB signaling on the regulation of stress and anxiety-related behaviors both during and after adolescence. Moreover, we discuss the functional implications of human genetic variation in the eCB system for the risk for anxiety and consequences of stress across development and into adulthood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Endocannabinoids / genetics*
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Sexual Maturation


  • Endocannabinoids