Neurobehavioral evidence for changes in dopamine system activity during adolescence

Dustin Wahlstrom, Tonya White, Monica Luciana

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Human adolescence has been characterized by increases in risk-taking, emotional lability, and deficient patterns of behavioral regulation. These behaviors have often been attributed to changes in brain structure that occur during this developmental period, notably alterations in gray and white matter that impact synaptic architecture in frontal, limbic, and striatal regions. In this review, we provide a rationale for considering that these behaviors may be due to changes in dopamine system activity, particularly overactivity, during adolescence relative to either childhood or adulthood. This rationale relies on animal data due to limitations in assessing neurochemical activity more directly in juveniles. Accordingly, we also present a strategy that incorporates molecular genetic techniques to infer the status of the underlying tone of the dopamine system across developmental groups. Implications for the understanding of adolescent behavioral development are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)631-648
Number of pages18
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grant DA017843-05 awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Monica Luciana and by a seed grant from the Biomedical Genomics Center at the University of Minnesota to Tonya White. Dustin Wahlstrom was supported by T32 grant MH017069-26 from the National Institute on Mental Health .


  • Adolescence
  • Brain development
  • COMT
  • Dopamine
  • Working memory


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