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Abstract

The behavior and psychopharmacological sensitivity of periadolescent rats are examined in this review. Periadolescent rats are hyperactive and engage in more conspecific play behavior than younger or older rats. When compared with other-aged rats, periadolescents exhibit enhanced performance in simple active-avoidance learning tasks, but perform poorly in more complex appetitive and avoidance learning tasks in which increases in locomotor activity do not improve performance, perhaps as a result of age-specific alterations in selective attention or stimulus processing. Such behavioral “anomalies” of periadolescent animals observed in traditional laboratory situations may be in some way adaptive when considered in the context of the animals' natural habitat. In terms of psychopharmacological responsiveness, periadolescent rats, when compared with younger or older animals, are less sensitive to catecholaminergic agonists but are more responsive to the catecholaminergic antagonist haloperidol. This pattern of psychopharmacological sensitivity suggests that the catecholaminergic systems may be temporarily hyposensitive during the periadolescent period. Evidence is presented that a negative feed-back system in the form of dopamine autoreceptors may become functionally mature in mesolimbic brain regions during the periadolescent period. The possibility is presented that maturation of these self-inhibitory autoreceptors might result in a temporary decrease in the efficacy of mesolimbic dopamine projections, perhaps contributing to the psychopharmacological and behavioral characteristics of periadolescent animals. In support of this suggestion, evidence is reviewed indicating that the behavior of adult animals with lesions of the ventral tegmental area, a region containing cell bodies from which these mesolimbic dopaminergic projections originate, resembles that of periadolescent rats.