Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine, Bonnie Nagel, Ph.D. (New investigator)
$200,000 payable over three years
Imaging the teen brain to understand emotional development and vulnerability to mood disorders
Brain regions involved in emotional responsiveness and regulation during adolescence will be imaged with fMRI to examine the influence of age and pubertal hormone levels on these developing brain systems and on adolescents’ potential vulnerability to mood disorders.
Adolescence, a time of considerable brain maturation and behavioral change, is also accompanied by a notable increase in emotional intensity. While parents traditionally sigh and say “hormones,” little is currently known about the cascade of developmental processes triggered by pubertal hormones. Improvements in executive functioning parallel prefrontal cortex development, and begin in puberty and continue throughout adolescence. Increases in emotional responsiveness, risk-taking and novelty-seeking behaviors, in contrast, are likely associated with the early influences of pubertal hormones on the brain.
The Oregon investigators hypothesize that regulatory (executive functioning) brain systems develop during the later teen years as a function of age and experience, while emotional systems activated by pubertal hormones occurs in early adolescence, and that this juxtaposition of regulatory and emotional development may help to explain the rise in depression in this age group.
They will use fMRI to examine the neural systems of emotional attention (limbic system) and inhibition (prefrontal cortex) in 35 female and 35 male adolescents between the ages of 10 to 15, and examine the respective influences of age and pubertal hormones on these developing brain systems. They will correlate these imaging findings with endocrine and psychological measures.