Monday, February 22, 2010

Pitt Researchers Look at Adolescent Brains

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say that adolescents’ behavior could stem from increased sensitivity to internal factors and their environment.

Lead researcher and professor of neuroscience Bita Moghaddam says her study found that although young rats learned to get rewards faster than adults, they continued to seek the sugar pellets even after the researchers stopped giving them.

Moghaddam says this behavior of the adolescents was amplified when the rats faced internal and external changes like hunger and noise.

She says this sensitivity to outside influences could help scientists gain a better understanding of why symptoms of psychological disorders first come out in one’s teenage years.

Moghaddam says the next step is to determine how the neurons of the rats’ brains interact to cause this behavior.

“If we see a very glaring difference in the first few months of recording, that then can be very quickly translated into human studies and functional imaging studies,” says Moghaddam, “whereas if the effects are far more subtle or they’re not in the regions we suspect they are, imaging would be a much longer process.”

Moghaddam says although understanding teens’ brains is important to public health, it remains an understudied field.

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