Adolescence is a time period of significant neurodevelopment, and is also a time when psychopathology begins to emerge in a sex-specific fashion. It is essential for us to understand what factors influence typical brain development and vulnerability for psychopathology. To date, research on brain organization and structure have been primarily studied in the developmental context of age. Recent research, however, suggests that puberty may uniquely contribute to the timing of neuromaturation differently in girls and boys, and may potentially contribute to the development of mental health problems that materialize during adolescence. However, the conclusions from the majority of these studies are limited due to their cross-sectional study design. The goal of the current project is to more fully characterize the influence of pubertal maturation, as measured by physical and hormonal assessments, on brain and mental health behaviors in typically developing girls and boys. Utilizing two independent longitudinal design datasets, the proposed study will use a multimodal approach, including structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging, to quantify the contributions of pubertal maturation in predicting changes in neurodevelopment within the same adolescents over an average of 2 years. Furthermore, the current study will examine if pubertal-related changes are distinct or similar depending on sex, and using behavioral self-reports, determine if individual differences in rates of pubertal-related brain maturation influence internalizing and externalizing behavior in typically developing adolescents. By improving our understanding of what role puberty plays in neurodevelopment, these experiments act as a novel and necessary first step toward determining if puberty's impact on neurodevelopment may help to explain the emergence of psychopathology in a sex-specific manner during adolescence.

Public Health Relevance

During adolescence a number of physical and psychological changes occur, including pubertal maturation, rapid neurodevelopment, as well as a sex-specific increase in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders. Using longitudinal methods, the current study aims to map how pubertal maturation influences neurodevelopment and psychiatric symptomology in typically developing teens. Understanding these relationships may ultimately allow for better prevention and targeted treatment interventions for sex-specific psychopathology during adolescence.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F02A-J (20))
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Freund, Lisa S
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Children's Hospital of Los Angeles
Los Angeles
United States
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Houston, Suzanne M; Herting, Megan M; Sowell, Elizabeth R (2014) The neurobiology of childhood structural brain development: conception through adulthood. Curr Top Behav Neurosci 16:3-17