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date: 25 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Puberty onset marks the beginning of adolescence and an organism’s transition to adulthood. Across species, adolescence is a dynamic period of maturation for brain and behavior. Pubertal processes, including the increase in gonadal hormone production, or gonadarche, can influence a broad array of neural processes and circuits to ultimately shape adult behavior. Decades of research in rodent models have shown that gonadal hormones at puberty promote adult-typical patterns of behavior across social, affective, and cognitive realms. Importantly, hormonal activation of sex-specific patterns of adult behavior relies on sexual differentiation of the brain around the time of birth, mediated by testicular hormones in males – and lack thereof in females. While it was originally believed that gonadal hormones play a purely activational role at puberty, studies in the early 21st century provide examples where the timing and relative levels of gonadal hormones exert long-lasting, or organizational effects on brain and behavior. In this way, adolescent exposure to gonadal hormones can orchestrate brain and body changes in unison and in some cases tune how the brain responds to gonadal hormones in adulthood. Notably, many of the effects of puberty on behavior may occur indirectly by altering sensitivity to environmental events and an organism’s ability to respond to or learn from experience. These insights from the animal literature provide a framework for understanding how puberty may influence the maturation of complex behaviors and modify risk or resilience to mental health disorders during human adolescence. In sum, puberty interacts with genetics, early life organizational effects of gonadal hormones, experience, and learning processes to shape behavior in adulthood.

Keywords: estrogens, androgens, steroid receptors, sensitive periods, puberty, adolescence

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