Childhood’s end: ADHD, autism and schizophrenia tied to stronger inhibitory interactions in adolescent prefrontal cortex
Key cognitive functions such as working memory (which combines temporary storage and manipulation of information) and executive function (a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action) are associated with the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Unlike other brain regions, the prefrontal cortex does not mature until early adulthood, with the most pronounced changes being seen between its peripubertal (onset of puberty) and postpubertal developmental states. Moreover, this maturation period is correlated with cognitive maturation – but the physical neuronal changes during this transition have remained for the most part unknown. Recently, however, scientists at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC recorded and compared prefrontal cortical activity peripubertal and adult monkeys.
The researchers found that compared with adults, peripubertal monkeys showed lower connectivity due to stronger inhibitory interactions, suggesting that intrinsic (or resting state) inhibitory connections – that is, inhibitory neural connections that are active in the absence of any particular task – decline with maturation. The scientists then concluded that prefrontal intrinsic connectivity changes are a possible substrate for cognitive maturation.
Prof. Christos Constantinidis discusses the paper that he, Dr. Xin Zhou and their co-authors published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When comparing the functional connectivity between pairs of neurons in neuronal activity recorded from the prefrontal cortex of peripubertal and adult monkeys and evaluating the developmental stage of peripubertal rhesus monkeys with a series of morphometric, hormonal, and radiographic measures, Constantinidis tells Medical Xpress that a major challenge was to obtain neural activity from the brain of monkeys around the time of puberty. “We needed to make ourselves experts in the developmental trajectories of monkeys and conduct experiments just at the right time relative to the onset of puberty,” he explains.