AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Teenagers

COVID-19 Puts the AGE in TeenAGEr

A new study from Stanford UnBrain 090407iversity suggests that stress from the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the brains of teenagers, resulting in their brains appearing years older than the brains of pre-pandemic teenagers. The pandemic resulted in increased anxiety and depression among teenagers, but this new research indicates that the effects may not just stop there.

Scientists know that traumatic childhood experiences can accelerate changes in brain structure. Research conducted by Katie McLaughlin, associate professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and her team led to the conclusion that adversity was connected with reduced cortical thickness. This is a sign of brain aging because as people age, their cortices naturally thin. 

Marjorie Mhoon Fair Professor of Psychology Ian Gotlib originally designed a long-term study to research the effects of depression during puberty. He had been conducting brain scans on 220 children, ages 9-13, but he was not able to continue due to COVID-19. After the pandemic, Gotlib resumed his study, and the results were shocking. Researchers discovered that the deveDiversity of youth in Oslo Norwaylopmental process of cortical thinning had been accelerated for the teenagers compared to normal brain development. According to Gotlib, “Compared to adolescents assessed before the pandemic, adolescents assessed after the pandemic shutdowns not only had more severe internalizing mental health problems, but also had reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampal and amygdala volume, and more advanced brain age.” It remains unclear to scientists whether or not the teenager’s brain age will eventually catch up to its chronological age.

Scientists speculate that the increased anxiety, depression, and overall mental health issues teenagers are experiencing following the pandemic may be linked to cortical thinning. Researchers speculate that cortical thinning may be linked to the expression of certain patterns of genes associated with different psychiatric disorders. Additionally, from studying children who suffered childhood trauma prior to the pandemic, researchers already know that negative childhood experiences can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental illnesses. The risk of physical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, increases as well. 

Jason Chein, professor of psychology and neuroscience and the director of the Temple University Brain Research & Imaging Center, found the research intriguing, but he cautioned against accepting the conclusion that children’s brains definitely aged faster. “It’s pretty interesting that they observed this change,” he said. “But I’m reluctant to then jump to the conclusion that what it signals to us is that somehow we’ve advanced the maturation of the brains of kids.”


AP Bio Connection 🙂

I chose this topic because I was interested in the effects of the pandemic on people in my age group. This topic connects to AP Bio because brain aging has been linked to increase stress hormones. The stress hormone corticosteroid activates an intracellular receptor which results in the changed gene expression. Due to the fact that corticosteroids activate intracellular receptors, they must be nonpolar molecules in order to enter the cell membrane. Feel free to comment down below if you enjoyed the article!!

Don’t Blame Me, Blame the Involuntary Remodeling of My Brain!

Credit: Susánica Tam

How many of you have found yourself doing something stupid, knowing that there will be major consequences for this action but doing it anyway? And how many of those people have found themselves getting yelled at by an adult for these actions? What those adults don’t know is that none of this is really your fault. Of course a teenager has to take responsibility for their decisions, but the fact that we are teenagers automatically makes us more inclined to take risks and get that adrenaline rush. So really, does the teen deserve to be blamed?

As reported in recent studies, according to an N.I.H. (National Institutes of Health) project, the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the time a person is six years old, and goes through intensive rewiring and remodeling between the ages of 15 and 25. What is happening during that time period, or adolescence, is that the brain’s axons gradually become more insulated with myelin. But that’s not all that’s happening. Dendrites are becoming thinner and heavily used synapses are becoming stronger (the rarely-used synapses become gray matter). That all happens to make your brain faster and more sophisticated.

How many times have you heard that “making mistakes are a part of growing up”? Well, it’s true! And (as I’m sure you are very well aware) learning from your mistakes is a BIG part of adolescence. In the brain, stronger links between the hippocampus and frontal areas are developing. The result from this type of remodeling is that teenagers become better at incorporating past experiences (or mistakes) into their future decisions.

At the same time, our frontal areas are developing greater speed and richer connections. This gives a teen the ability to balance out impulse, desire, goals, self-interest, rules, and ethics on a day-to-day basis. However, our brains are just getting used to this rewiring, so the average teenager can only help but slip up every now and again.

As if all this rewiring wasn’t enough, risk-taking and a need for excitement reaches a peak at around age 15. This can best be explained through two factors. One, teenagers are more receptive to dopamine and oxytocin; chemicals that make us LOVE winning and HATE losing, as well as make us prone that feeling of excitement when we are with all our friends and other kids our age. Two, it’s not that teenagers don’t understand how much damage a certain action will cause, it’s just that teenagers weigh the reward of completing this action much more heavily than the consequences if things go awry. The high levels of dopamine also explain why some teenage boy can’t seem to handle losing his soccer game, and why some 15-year-old girl becomes inconsolable after not being invited to that party.

So the next time you get in trouble for speeding down 25A, remember that you’re just a teenager and you’re going to make mistakes, due to the changes in your myelinated axons and high levels of dopamine and oxytocin. So everyone relax, because teenagers aren’t young adults, we’re just works in progress!


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