Puberty and the human brain: Insights into adolescent development

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Abstract

Alongside the exponential flourish of research on age-related trajectories of human brain development during childhood and adolescence in the past two decades, there has been an increase in the body of work examining the association between pubertal development and brain maturation. This review systematically examines empirical research on puberty-related structural and functional brain development in humans, with the aim of identifying convergent patterns of associations. We emphasize longitudinal studies, and discuss pervasive but oft-overlooked methodological issues that may be contributing to inconsistent findings and hindering progress (e.g., conflating distinct pubertal indices and different measurement instruments). We also briefly evaluate support for prominent models of adolescent neurodevelopment that hypothesize puberty-related changes in brain regions involved in affective and motivational processes. For the field to progress, replication studies are needed to help resolve current inconsistencies and gain a clearer understanding of pubertal associations with brain development in humans, knowledge that is crucial to make sense of the changes in psychosocial functioning, risk behavior, and mental health during adolescence.

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