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Maturational Changes in Prefrontal and Amygdala Circuits in Adolescence: Implications for Understanding Fear Inhibition during a Vulnerable Period of Development

School of Psychology, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Brain Sci. 2019, 9(3), 65;
Received: 6 February 2019 / Revised: 13 March 2019 / Accepted: 14 March 2019 / Published: 18 March 2019
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Anxiety disorders that develop in adolescence represent a significant burden and are particularly challenging to treat, due in no small part to the high occurrence of relapse in this age group following exposure therapy. This pattern of persistent fear is preserved across species; relative to those younger and older, adolescents consistently show poorer extinction, a key process underpinning exposure therapy. This suggests that the neural processes underlying fear extinction are temporarily but profoundly compromised during adolescence. The formation, retrieval, and modification of fear- and extinction-associated memories are regulated by a forebrain network consisting of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the amygdala, and the hippocampus. These regions undergo robust maturational changes in early life, with unique alterations in structure and function occurring throughout adolescence. In this review, we focus primarily on two of these regions—the PFC and the amygdala—and discuss how changes in plasticity, synaptic transmission, inhibition/excitation, and connectivity (including modulation by hippocampal afferents to the PFC) may contribute to transient deficits in extinction retention. We end with a brief consideration of how exposure to stress during this adolescent window of vulnerability can permanently disrupt neurodevelopment, leading to lasting impairments in pathways of emotional regulation. View Full-Text
Keywords: fear extinction; adolescence; prefrontal cortex; amygdala fear extinction; adolescence; prefrontal cortex; amygdala

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Zimmermann, K.S.; Richardson, R.; Baker, K.D. Maturational Changes in Prefrontal and Amygdala Circuits in Adolescence: Implications for Understanding Fear Inhibition during a Vulnerable Period of Development. Brain Sci. 2019, 9, 65.

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