The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is divided into subregions, including the medial and orbital prefrontal cortices. Dopamine connectivity in the medial PFC (mPFC) continues to be established throughout adolescence as the result of the continuous growth of axons that innervated the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) prior to adolescence. During this period, dopamine axons remain vulnerable to environmental influences, such as drugs used recreationally by humans. The developmental trajectory of the orbital prefrontal dopamine innervation remains almost completely unstudied. Nonetheless, the orbital PFC (oPFC) is critical for some of the most complex functions of the PFC and is disrupted by drugs of abuse, both in adolescent humans and rodents. Here, we use quantitative neuroanatomy, axon-initiated viral-vector recombination, and pharmacology in mice to determine the spatiotemporal development of the dopamine innervation to the oPFC and its vulnerability to amphetamine in adolescence. We find that dopamine innervation to the oPFC also continues to increase during adolescence and that this increase is due to the growth of new dopamine axons to this region. Furthermore, amphetamine in adolescence dramatically reduces the number of presynaptic sites on oPFC dopamine axons. In contrast, dopamine innervation to the piriform cortex is not protracted across adolescence and is not impacted by amphetamine exposure during adolescence, indicating that dopamine development during adolescence is a uniquely prefrontal phenomenon. This renders these fibers, and the PFC in general, particularly vulnerable to environmental risk factors during adolescence, such as recreational drug use.
Keywords: drug use; guidance cue; orbitofrontal cortex; piriform cortex.