Evidence for a role of corticopetal, noradrenergic systems in the development of executive function

Date Published:

2017 Sep


Adolescence is a period during which many aspects of executive function are maturing. Much of the literature has focused on discrepancies between sub-cortical and cortical development that is hypothesized to lead to over-processing of reinforcement related stimuli unchecked by fully matured response inhibition. Specifically, maturation of sub-cortical dopaminergic systems that terminate in the nucleus accumbens has been suggested to occur prior to the full maturation of corticopetal dopaminergic systems. However, converging evidence supports the hypothesis that many aspects of cognitive control are critically linked to cortical noradrenergic systems, that the effectiveness of drugs used to treat disorders of executive function, e.g. ADHD, may result primarily from increases in cortical norepinephrine (NE) and that cortical noradrenergic systems mature across adolescence. However, little attention has been given to the development of this system during adolescence or to its influence in executive function. In the present paper, we discuss the developmental trajectory of the noradrenergic system of the forebrain, highlight the interactions between noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems, and highlight the contribution of the immature corticopetal noradrenergic systems in the ontogeny of several aspects of executive function. Finally we compare data from adolescent rats to those gathered after selective depletion of NE in sub-regions of the prefrontal cortex with an emphasis on the similarities in performance of NE lesioned rats and adolescents.