Pubertal onset as a critical transition for neural development and cognition

Janice M. Juraska, Jari Willing

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Adolescence, broadly defined as the period between childhood and adulthood, is characterized by a variety of neuroanatomical and behavioral changes. In human adolescents, the cerebral cortex, especially the prefrontal cortex, decreases in size while the cortical white matter increases. Puberty appears to be an important factor in both of these changes. However, the white matter continues to grow beyond what is thought to be adolescence, while the gray matter of the cortex stabilizes by young adulthood. The size changes that are the manifestation of cortical reorganization during human adolescence are also seen in cellular reorganization in the rat cortex. The prefrontal cortex loses neurons, dendrites and synapses while myelination in the white matter continues to increase. All of this reorganization is more marked in female rats, and there is evidence both from pubertal timing and from removal of the ovaries that puberty plays an important role in initiating these changes in females. The maturation of behavioral functions of the prefrontal cortex, such as inhibitory control, occurs in both humans and rats across adolescence. There is also evidence for puberty as a major factor in decreasing perseveration in rats, but few studies have been done using pubertal status as an experimental variable, and the role of the gonadal steroids in modulating behavior throughout life makes clear effects more difficult to document. In all, puberty appears to be so essential to the changes occurring during adolescence that it should be recorded when possible, especially given the sex difference in pubertal timing. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI: Adolescent plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-94
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Adolescence
  • Inhibitory control
  • Neuron number
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Puberty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology

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