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J Neurosci. 2015 Aug 12;35(32):11308-14. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1553-15.2015.

Longitudinal Changes in Prefrontal Cortex Activation Underlie Declines in Adolescent Risk Taking.

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Department of Psychology,
Department of Psychology, Brain Research Institute.
Department of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095.
Department of Psychology, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois 61820, and


Adolescence is a critical developmental phase during which risk-taking behaviors increase across a variety of species, raising the importance of understanding how brain changes contribute to such behaviors. While the prefrontal cortex is thought to influence adolescent risk taking, the specific ways in which it functions are unclear. Using longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging in human adolescents, we found that ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) activation decreased during an experimental risk-taking task over time, with greater declines in VLPFC associated with greater declines in self-reported risky behavior. Furthermore, greater decreases in functional coupling between the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and ventral striatum over time were associated with decreases in self-reported risky behavior. Thus, disparate roles of the VLPFC and MPFC modulate longitudinal declines in adolescent risk taking.


Adolescence is a developmental period marked by steep increases in risk-taking behavior coupled with dramatic brain changes. Although theories propose that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) may influence adolescent risk taking, the specific ways in which it functions remain unclear. We report the first longitudinal functional magnetic resonance imaging study to examine how neural activation during risk taking changes over time and contributes to adolescents' real-life risk-taking behavior. We find that longitudinal declines in activation of the ventrolateral PFC are linked to declines in adolescent risk taking, whereas the medial PFC influences adolescent risk taking via its functional neural coupling with reward-related regions. This is the first study to identify the mechanism by which different regions of the PFC disparately contribute to declines in risk taking.


adolescence; fMRI; prefrontal cortex; risk taking

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