The timing of neuronal loss across adolescence in the medial prefrontal cortex of male and female rats

J. Willing, J. M. Juraska

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescence is a critical period of brain maturation characterized by the reorganization of interacting neural networks. In particular the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region involved in executive function, undergoes synaptic and neuronal pruning during this time in both humans and rats. Our laboratory has previously shown that rats lose neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and there is an increase in white matter under the frontal cortex between adolescence and adulthood. Female rats lose more neurons during this period, and ovarian hormones may play a role as ovariectomy before adolescence prevents neuronal loss. However, little is known regarding the timing of neuroanatomical changes that occur between early adolescence and adulthood. In the present study, we quantified the number of neurons and glia in the male and female mPFC at multiple time points from preadolescence through adulthood (postnatal days 25, 35, 45, 60 and 90). Females, but not males, lost a significant number of neurons in the mPFC between days 35 and 45, coinciding with the onset of puberty. Counts of GABA immunoreactive cell bodies indicated that the neurons lost were not primarily GABAergic. These results suggest that in females, pubertal hormones may exert temporally specific changes in PFC anatomy. As expected, both males and females gained white matter under the PFC throughout adolescence, though these gains in females were diminished after day 35, but not in males. The differences in cell loss in males and females may lead to differential vulnerability to external influences and dysfunctions of the PFC that manifest in adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)268-275
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • Adolescence
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Pruning
  • Stereology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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