The Teenage Brain: Altered Fear in Humans and Mice
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
Fear learning is an adaptive, evolutionarily conserved process that allows people to respond appropriately to threats in the environment. These threats can vary across different contexts and across the life course. Taking into account the high degree of neural and behavioral conservation across species in fear regulation and its underlying neural circuitry, we examined how fear learning changes across contexts and over the course of development, focusing specifically on the environmentally changing and challenging period of adolescence. We show two surprising developmental findings specific to adolescents, relative to older and younger individuals: (a) diminished fear to previously aversive contexts and (b) heightened fear to previously aversive cues. These behavioral changes are paralleled by developmental changes in frontolimbic circuitry. We discuss how these evolutionarily conserved mechanisms may be essential to survival of the species, given the changing environmental demands (social, sexual, and physical) of adolescence. Our findings also have important implications for unremitting forms of fear at the core of anxiety-related disorders, which peak during adolescence, and for when during development specific treatments for these disorders may be most effective. © The Author(s) 2013.
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