Adolescent prefrontal cortex studied

March 13, 2007 at 7:55 AM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., March 13 (UPI) -- U.S. medical researchers have found adolescence is a time of change in the prefrontal cortex, a brain structure dedicated to higher functions.

University of Illinois scientists, in a study involving rats, found both males and females lose neurons in their ventral prefrontal cortex between adolescence and adulthood, with females losing about 13 percent more neurons than males.

The researchers said their study is the first to demonstrate the number of neurons in the prefrontal cortex decreases during adolescence and the first to document gender differences in the number of neurons in that area.

Earlier human studies found gradual reductions in the volume of the prefrontal cortex from adolescence to adulthood., said psychology professor and principal investigator Janice Juraska.

"But the finding that neurons are actually dying is completely new," said Juraska. "This indicates the brain reorganizes in a very fundamental way in adolescence."

The research by Juraska, graduate student Julie Markham and undergraduate student John Morris, appeared in the journal Neuroscience.

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