Walter Dean Myers, an author of The Young Landlords and many other classic coming of age novels once remarked, “The special place of the young adult novel should be in its ability to address the needs of the reader to understand his or her relationships with the world, with each other, and with adults.” Indeed, the wonderful elaborations of psychosocial development that occur during the teenage years makes for a vivid and tumultuous time – worthy of many a book – especially those like Myers’ that so help adolescents to cope. During this time, a child’s brain and body is supplanted by adult systems, which, from a physiological point of view, place the adolescent’s mind and body at the mercy of thousands of shifting biochemical processes. Such a notion of the shifting sands of adolescence were brought to mind while reading a research article focused on one – just one single example – of biochemical change.
The paper entitled, “Cortico-striatal synaptic defects and OCD-like behaviors in SAPAP3 mutant mice” [doi: 10.1038/nature06104] points out that mice who lack the function of the post-synaptic density scaffolding protein encoded by the SAPAP3 gene display excessive grooming and other behaviors reminiscent of obsessive compulsive disorder – a condition that frequently emerges during adolescence. One of the main findings of the paper is that a normal developmental shift of NR2B –> NR2A subunits of the NMDA receptor does NOT seem to occur – rendering the SAPAP3 mutant mice with an immature form of NMDA receptor. The authors suggest that this may be the underlying reason for the aberrant behavior, and were able to normalize the mutant mice by re-introducing SAPAP3 protein via a lentiviral-mediated expression vector placed in the striatum.
Gosh. This NR2B –> NR2A shift is just one example – one grain – in the shifting biochemical sands of development. Just one of thousands. How did my brain ever make it through?