There is increasing evidence that puberty plays an important role in the structural and functional brain development seen in adolescence, but little is known of the pubertal influence on changes in functional connectivity. We explored how pubertal indicators (salivary concentrations of testosterone, oestradiol and DHEA; pubertal stage; menarcheal status) relate to functional connectivity between components of a mentalising network identified to be engaged in social emotion processing by our prior work, using psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis. Female adolescents aged 11 to 13 years were scanned whilst silently reading scenarios designed to evoke either social emotions (guilt and embarrassment) or basic emotions (disgust and fear), of which only social compared to basic emotions require the representation of another person's mental states. Pubertal stage and menarcheal status were used to assign participants to pre/early or mid/late puberty groups. We found increased functional connectivity between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) and the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) during social relative to basic emotion processing. Moreover, increasing oestradiol concentrations were associated with increased functional connectivity between the DMPFC and the right TPJ during social relative to basic emotion processing, independent of age. Our analysis of the PPI data by phenotypic pubertal status showed that more advanced puberty stage was associated with enhanced functional connectivity between the DMPFC and the left anterior temporal cortex (ATC) during social relative to basic emotion processing, also independent of age. Our results suggest increased functional maturation of the social brain network with the advancement of puberty in girls.

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Hormones and Behavior

Klapwijk, E.T., Goddings, A.L., Burnett Heyes, S., Viner, R.M., & Blakemore, S.J. (2013). Increased functional connectivity with puberty in the mentalising network involved in social emotion processing. Hormones and Behavior, 64(2), 314–322. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.03.012