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Left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation during reward anticipation is associated with pubertal tempo and predicts future adolescent risky sexual behaviors
Sexual behavior is normative in adolescent development, although certain sexual behaviors may result in more serious health risks. The neural correlates of risky sexual behaviors (RSB) are poorly understood and are hypothesized to be influenced by reward-seeking and cognitive control circuits. Earlier pubertal development is associated with greater RSB and changes reward processing, although no studies have examined RSB as an outcome associated with pubertal changes to neural reward circuitry. 60 females from the Pittsburgh Girls Study completed measures of puberty, neural reward anticipation, and sexual behavior. Puberty was measured annually from ages 9-15 using the Pubertal Development Scale (PDS; (Petersen et al., 1988)). Pubertal timing and tempo were modeled with a nonlinear Gompertz growth model. At age 16, participants completed fMRI using a standardized monetary reward task and, at age 18, completed the adolescent sexual activity index (ASAI; (Hansen et al., 1999)). Faster pubertal tempo was associated with lower activation to reward anticipation in the left DLPFC (p<0.05). In a logistic regression model, lower left DLPFC activation predicted greater RSB at age 18. This suggests rapid hormonal changes may have a prolonged impact on reward circuitry and the extended circuitry for self-regulation, with consequences for decision-making and risk behaviors.