Reward Neurocircuitry in Adolescent Development and Decision Making

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Bethesda North Marriott Hotel Conference Center, Bethesda, Maryland


United States

Meeting Summary

NIDA Organizers: Dr. Laurence Stanford and Dr. Karen Sirocco, Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research

Meeting Purpose:

The organizing theme of the workshop centered on how reward neurocircuitry develops over the course of adolescence and how this impacts decision-making.

Meeting Outcome:

On January 20, 2006, four of the National Institutes of Health (NICHD, NIDA, NIMH, and NINDS) held a workshop entitled "Reward Circuitry in Adolescent Development and Decision Making". The workshop brought together scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, including preclinical and clinical researchers, neurobiological and behavioral scientists, pediatricians and developmental psychologists, to discuss how the neurocircuitry that underlies reward processing develops over the course of adolescence and how this affects decision making during that time of life. What is known about the neurocircuitry of reward processing in adults, including key structures, connectivity and neurochemistry was reviewed and provided a basis for comparison of this circuitry during adolescent development.

An important component of this review was a consideration of the tasks that can be used to probe reward neurocircuitry and the methodologies that are now becoming available to demonstrate the brain structures that contribute to the processing of reward information and decision making. In extending these discussions to the way in which adolescents perform similar tasks important contrasts emerge, both in the performance arena and in the neurobiological substrates that underlie the process with accumulating evidence for a shift from decisions driven by activation of subcortical pathways to top-down cortical control mechanisms with age Of great importance is how these differences in the way in which adults and adolescents reach decisions contribute to risk-taking and impulsive behavior and, ultimately, the vulnerability of adolescents to the development of psychopathology, such as substance use disorders and affective disorders.

The workshop concluded with a discussion of how best to approach an understanding of the development of the circuitry underlying reward processing and decision making- what tasks might best probe these functions, how might these paradigms be tailored to different developmental epochs, what methodologies are most appropriate for defining the neurobiological substrates that underlie these functional capacities and how do these change in a developmental context?

Expected follow-up

We are exploring the possibilities for publishing a synopsis of the meeting/position paper with a number of journals.

Brief Description of Resulting Publications

Please see above.