Immaturities in adolescent reward processing are thought to contribute to poor decision making and increased susceptibility to develop addictive and psychiatric disorders. Very little is known; however, about how the adolescent brain processes reward. The current mechanistic theories of reward processing are derived from adult models. Here we review recent research focused on understanding of how the adolescent brain responds to rewards and reward-associated events. A critical aspect of this work is that age-related differences are evident in neuronal processing of reward-related events across multiple brain regions even when adolescent rats demonstrate behavior similar to adults. These include differences in reward processing between adolescent and adult rats in orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal striatum. Surprisingly, minimal age related differences are observed in ventral striatum, which has been a focal point of developmental studies. We go on to discuss the implications of these differences for behavioral traits affected in adolescence, such as impulsivity, risk-taking, and behavioral flexibility. Collectively, this work suggests that reward-evoked neural activity differs as a function of age and that regions such as the dorsal striatum that are not traditionally associated with affective processing in adults may be critical for reward processing and psychiatric vulnerability in adolescents.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience