The emergence of gonadal hormone influences on dopaminergic function during puberty.
Adolescence is the developmental epoch during which children become adults-intellectually, physically, hormonally and socially. Brain development in critical areas is ongoing. Adolescents are risk-taking and novelty-seeking and they weigh positive experiences more heavily and negative experiences less than adults. This inherent behavioral bias can lead to risky behaviors like drug taking. Most drug addictions start during adolescence and early drug-taking is associated with an increased rate of drug abuse and dependence. The hormonal changes of puberty contribute to physical, emotional, intellectual and social changes during adolescence. These hormonal events do not just cause maturation of reproductive function and the emergence of secondary sex characteristics. They contribute to the appearance of sex differences in non-reproductive behaviors as well. Sex differences in drug use behaviors are among the latter. The male predominance in overall drug use appears by the end of adolescence, while girls develop the rapid progression from first use to dependence (telescoping) that represent a female-biased vulnerability. Sex differences in many behaviors including drug use have been attributed to social and cultural factors. A narrowing gap in drug use between adolescent boys and girls supports this thesis. However, some sex differences in addiction vulnerability reflect biologic differences in brain circuits involved in addiction. The purpose of this review is to summarize the contribution of sex differences in the function of ascending dopamine systems that are critical to reinforcement, to briefly summarize the behavioral, neurochemical and anatomical changes in brain dopaminergic functions related to addiction that occur during adolescence and to present new findings about the emergence of sex differences in dopaminergic function during adolescence.
Kuhn, C; Johnson, M; Thomae, A; Luo, B; Simon, SA; Zhou, G; Walker, QD
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