Testosterone’s Dual Role in Brain Development: Affects Emotion Control Differently Across Ages

Summary: Higher testosterone levels influence emotion control differently during adolescence and adulthood.

Using brain imaging, they discovered a positive impact of testosterone on the engagement of the brain’s anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) decreases from age 14 to 17, then flips by age 20. As testosterone levels in young adulthood are no longer associated with puberty, they may impede aPFC-mediated emotion control.

The study underscores the changing role of testosterone across developmental periods, prompting further investigation into its link with mood disorders.

Key Facts:

  1. The influence of testosterone on emotion control, mediated by the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC), changes from adolescence to adulthood.
  2. In adolescence, higher testosterone levels enhance aPFC engagement, while in adulthood, they may impede it.
  3. Understanding the changing role of testosterone can provide insight into mood disorders that often arise during adolescence.

Source: Wiley

Higher testosterone levels during adolescence are associated with increased involvement of the brain’s anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) in emotion control, but the opposite effect occurs during adulthood.

In a study published in Developmental Science, researchers investigated this switch by conducting brain imaging scans in the same individuals during middle adolescence, late adolescence, and young adulthood.

This shows an angry man.
In contrast to adolescence, during young adulthood, testosterone—no longer related to pubertal development— may impede emotion control, as implemented by the aPFC. Credit: Neuroscience News

The study, which included 71 participants, demonstrated that the positive effect of testosterone on aPFC engagement decreases from age 14 to age 17 and then shifts by age 20, when higher testosterone levels are linked with less aPFC activity.

In contrast to adolescence, during young adulthood, testosterone—no longer related to pubertal development— may impede emotion control, as implemented by the aPFC.

The findings suggest that the function of testosterone changes within individuals across adolescence and adulthood.

The study’s investigators note that many mood disorders tend to arise during adolescence, and additional research may reveal whether alterations in the interactions between testosterone and the brain may be related to this.

“Testosterone typically tends to be associated with aggression or dominance behavior, whereas in fact it has multifaceted roles across different developmental periods,” said corresponding author Anna Tyborowska, PhD, of Radboud University, in The Netherlands.

“The findings of the current study are important for understanding both typical and atypical maturational trajectories of the brain, as well as considering the impact of external factors (such as stress) on brain function and development.”

About this neurodevelopment and emotion research news

Author: Sara Henning-Stout
Source: Wiley
Contact: Sara Henning-Stout – Wiley
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Developmental shift in testosterone influence on prefrontal emotion control” by Anna Tyborowska et al. Developmental Science


Developmental shift in testosterone influence on prefrontal emotion control

A paradox of testosterone effects is seen in adolescents versus adults in social emotional approach-avoidance behavior.

During adolescence, high testosterone levels are associated with increased anterior prefrontal (aPFC) involvement in emotion control, whereas during adulthood this neuro-endocrine relation is reversed.

Rodent work shows that, during puberty, testosterone transitions from a neuro-developmental to a social-sexual activating hormone. In this study, we explored whether this functional transition is also present in human adolescents and young adults.

Using a prospective longitudinal design, we investigated the role of testosterone on neural control of social emotional behavior during the transitions from middle to late adolescence and into young adulthood.

Seventy-one individuals (tested at ages 14, 17, and 20 years) performed an fMRI-adapted approach-avoidance (AA) task involving automatic and controlled actions in response to social emotional stimuli.

In line with predictions from animal models, the effect of testosterone on aPFC engagement decreased between middle and late adolescence, and shifted into an activational role by young adulthood—impeding neural control of emotions.

This change in testosterone function was accompanied by increased testosterone-modulated amygdala reactivity.

These findings qualify the testosterone-dependent maturation of the prefrontal-amygdala circuit supporting emotion control during the transition from middle adolescence into young adulthood.

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