Adolescence poses as both a transitional period in neurodevelopment and lifestyle practices. In particular, the developmental trajectory of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a critical region for behavioral control and self-regulation, is enduring, not reaching functional maturity until the early 20 s in humans. Furthermore, the neurotransmitter dopamine is particularly abundant during adolescence, tuning the brain to rapidly learn about rewards and regulating aspects of neuroplasticity. Thus, adolescence is proposed to represent a period of vulnerability towards reward-driven behaviors such as the consumption of palatable high fat and high sugar diets. This is reflected in the increasing prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents as they are the greatest consumers of “junk foods”. Excessive consumption of diets laden in saturated fat and refined sugars not only leads to weight gain and the development of obesity, but experimental studies with rodents indicate they evoke cognitive deficits in learning and memory process by disrupting neuroplasticity and altering reward processing neurocircuitry. Consumption of these high fat and high sugar diets have been reported to have a particularly pronounced impact on cognition when consumed during adolescence, demonstrating a susceptibility of the adolescent brain to enduring cognitive deficits. The adolescent brain, with heightened reward sensitivity and diminished behavioral control compared to the mature adult brain, appears to be a risk for aberrant eating behaviors that may underpin the development of obesity. This review explores the neurodevelopmental changes in the PFC and mesocortical dopamine signaling that occur during adolescence, and how these potentially underpin the overconsumption of palatable food and development of obesogenic diet-induced cognitive deficits.
Reichelt, A. C. (2016). Adolescent maturational transitions in the prefrontal cortex and dopamine signaling as a risk factor for the development of obesity and high fat/high sugar diet induced cognitive deficits. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10(OCT). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00189