The prefrontal cortex is involved in working memory and self-regulatory and goal-directed behaviors. It displays structural and functional plasticity over the life course. Neural circuitry, molecular profiles, and neurochemistry can be changed by experiences, which influence behavior as well as neuroendocrine and autonomic function. Such effects have a particular impact during infancy and in adolescence. Behavioral stress affects both the structure and function of the prefrontal cortex but young animals show remarkable neuronal resilience if the stress is discontinued. During aging, neurons within the prefrontal cortex become less resilient to stress. The authors of this review show that while stress and sex hormone-related alterations occur in regions mediating the highest levels of cognitive function and self-regulatory control, they are not necessarily permanent. This has implications for future behavior-based therapies that harness neural plasticity for recovery.
McEwen BS and Morrison JH: The Brain on Stress: Vulnerability and Plasticity of the Prefrontal Cortex over the Life Course. Neuron 79(1): 16-29 (2013).