The amygdala: An agent of change in adolescent neural networks

K. Suzanne Scherf, Joshua M. Smyth, Mauricio R. Delgado

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


This article is part of a Special Issue "Puberty and Adolescence".A unique component of adolescent development is the need to master new developmental tasks in which peer interactions become primary (for the purposes of becoming autonomous from parents, forming intimate friendships, and romantic/sexual partnerships). Previously, it has been suggested that the ability to master these tasks requires an important re-organization in the relation between perceptual, motivational, affective, and cognitive systems in a very general and broad way that is fundamentally influenced by the infusion of sex hormones during pubertal development (Scherf et al., 2012). Herein, we extend this argument to suggest that the amygdala, which is vastly connected with cortical and subcortical regions and contains sex hormone receptors, may lie at the heart of this re-organization. We propose that during adolescent development there is a shift in the attribution of relevance to existing stimuli and contexts that is mediated by the amygdala (e.g., heightened relevance of peer faces, reduced relevance of physical distance from parents). As a result, amygdala inputs to existing stable neural networks are re-weighted (increased or decreased), which destabilizes the functional interactions among regions within these networks and allows for a critical restructuring of the network functional organization. This process of network re-organization enables processing of qualitatively new kinds of social information and the emergence of novel behaviors that support mastery of adolescent-specific developmental tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-313
Number of pages16
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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