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Distinct patterns of outcome valuation and amygdala-prefrontal cortex synaptic remodeling in adolescence and adulthood


Adolescent behavior is typified by increased risk-taking, reward- and novelty-seeking, as well as an augmented need for social and environmental stimulation. This behavioral phenotype may result from alterations in outcome valuation or reward learning. In the present set of experiments, we directly compared adult and adolescent animals on tasks measuring both of these processes. Additionally, we examined developmental differences in dopamine D1-like receptor (D1R), dopamine D2-like receptor (D2R), and polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule (PSA-NCAM) expression in animals that were trained on an effortful reward valuation task, given that these proteins play an important role in the functional development of the amygdala-prefrontocortical (PFC) circuit and mesocorticolimbic dopamine system. We found that adolescent animals were not different from adults in appetitive associative learning, but exhibited distinct pattern of responses to differences in outcome values, which was paralleled by an enhanced motivation to invest effort to obtain larger rewards. There were no differences in D2 receptor expression, but D1 receptor expression was significantly reduced in the striatum of animals that had experiences with reward learning during adolescence compared to animals that went through the same experiences in adulthood. We observed increased levels of PSA-NCAM expression in both PFC and amygdala of late adolescents compared to adults that were previously trained on an effortful reward valuation task. PSA-NCAM levels in PFC were strongly and positively associated with high effort/reward (HER) choices in adolescents, but not in adult animals. Increased levels of PSA-NCAM expression in adolescents may index increased structural plasticity and represent a neural correlate of a reward sensitive endophenotype.

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