New Research on Brain Plasticity During Adolescence

Postmortem studies of the prefrontal cortex have revealed changes in gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate across adolescence, which suggests shifts in excitation and inhibition balance consistent with critical period plasticity. However, questions have persisted regarding how gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate change through adolescence and how the balance of these inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters changes. Assessing age-related changes in gamma-aminobutyric acid/creatine and glutamate/creatine has the potential to help scientists improve their understanding of adolescent behavior.

To identify markers of critical period plasticity in adolescence, investigators including Finnegan Calabro, PhD (Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Bioengineering), and Beatriz Luna, PhD (Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and Staunton Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry), from the University of Pittsburgh, conducted high-precision 7T magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (MRSI) in a sample of 144 individuals ages 10–30.  

In Progress in Neurobiology, the team reported results of the study that included evidence for prefrontal increases in excitation and inhibition balance through adolescence into adulthood driven by a global age-related decrease in glutamate/creatine across the prefrontal cortex, but no evidence for increases in gamma-aminobutyric acid/creatine though adolescence. Maria Perica (PhD Candidate, Department of Psychology) served as first author of the study.

“Our findings showing increases in excitation and inhibition balance into adulthood suggest possible critical period plasticity in the prefrontal cortex through adolescence that may support the establishment of adult trajectories of cognitive processes and, importantly, the emergence of major psychopathology during this period of the lifespan,” said Dr. Luna, the study’s senior author.

Development of frontal GABA and glutamate supports excitation/inhibition balance from adolescence into adulthood
Perica MI, Calabro FJ, Larsen B, Foran W, Yushmanov VE, Hetherington H, Tervo-Clemmens B, Moon C-H, Luna B.

Progress in Neurobiology, Volume 219, 2022, 102370, ISSN 0301-0082,