Current Projects

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Brain neuroplasticity and behavioral development in adolescence

Adolescence is widely conceptualized as a period of time when individuals engage in more risk-taking behavior, at least as compared to childhood and adulthood. The reasons for this increase have not been fully explained from a scientific perspective. Within our lab, we are investigating the longitudinal development of executive functions, such as working memory, planning, and inhibitory control, in typically-developing adolescents as a function of both age and pubertal development. The literature suggests that these abilities improve at a steady rate through adolescence and into adulthood.

We are also examining brain structure in relation to the development of executive function.  Brain-based changes commonly observed through adolescence include declines in cortical gray matter, declines in cortical thickness, increases in white matter extent, and evidence of increased fronto-striatal connectivity. In our work, we have attempted to define links between these normative neurodevelopmental processes and behavior.

In recent years, models of adolescent development have expanded from a primary focus on executive function and its development to the consideration of motivational factors that also impact behavior. In our lab, we are most interested in positive motivation--that is, the circumstances under which people pursue positive goals and rewards. Our group has theorized that positive motivation has a basis in the brain’s dopamine system, and our group has described the circuitry involved in this association. We have hypothesized that increases in dopamine activity underlie a shift that occurs during adolescence where sensitivity to positive incentives increases before declining to more typical levels as adulthood is reached. Our work coheres with other dual systems models of adolescent development in suggesting (a) that adolescence is a period of time when positive incentive motivation exerts a strong influence over behavior and (b) that this drive is difficult for the still-developing prefrontal cortex to fully control. This work has implications for many forms of psychopathology that emerge during adolescence.

Selected Publications:

Luciana, M., Wahlstrom, D., Collins, P.F. & Porter, J.N. (2012). Dopaminergic modulation of incentive motivation in adolescence: age-related changes in signaling, individual differences, and implications for the development of self-regulation. Developmental Psychology, 48(3), 844-861.

Luciana, M. & Collins, P.F. (2012). Incentive motivation, cognitive control, and the adolescent brain: Is it time for a paradigm shift? Child Development Perspectives. 6(4), 392-399.

Luciana, M. (2013). Adolescent brain development in normality and psychopathology. Development & Psychopathology, 25, 25th-anniversary special issue, 1325-1345. 

Urošević, S., Collins, P., Muetzel, R., Lim, K.O., & Luciana, M. (2014). Pubertal status associations with reward and threat sensitivities and subcortical brain volumes during adolescence. Brain and Cognition, 89, 15-26.

Kennedy, J., Collins, P.F., Luciana, M. (2016). Higher adolescent body mass index is associated with lower regional gray and white matter volumes and lower levels of positive emotionality. Frontiers in Neuroscience, doi:

Almy, B., Kuskowski, M., Malone, S., Myers, E., Luciana, M. (2017). A longitudinal analysis of adolescent decision-making using the Iowa Gambling Task. Developmental Psychology. doi: 10.1037/dev0000460.


Disrupted development of neural connections following alcohol use initiation in adolescents

Adolescence is a critical period for the emergence of clinical problems, such as substance abuse and dependence.  Adult studies have demonstrated adverse effects of chronic heavy alcohol use on brain structure and function. However, little research exists regarding how initiation of alcohol use interacts with neurodevelopmental processes that are active in adolescence. Given that a large majority of adolescents initiate alcohol use, a key question is how this initiation disrupts the developmental fine tuning of brain connectivity patterns. We are examining this question through a longitudinal project funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and National Institute on Drug Abuse. Our work to date indicates that alcohol use initiation is associated with declines in cortical thickness in the frontal lobe, with deviations in white matter development in posterior cortical regions, and with disrupted white matter connectivity in the striatum and periventricular regions.

Selected Publications:

Luciana, M., Collins, P.F., Muetzel, R., & Lim K.O. (2013). Effects of alcohol use initiation on brain structure in typically developing adolescents. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 39(6), 345-355.

Malone, S.M., Luciana, M., Wilson, S., Sparks, J.C., Hunt, R.H., Thomas, K.M. (2014). Adolescent drinking and motivated decision-making: a co-twin-control investigation with monozygotic twins. Behavior Genetics, 44 (4), 407-418.

Urošević, S.,  Collins, P., Muetzel, R., Schissel, A., Lim, K.O., & Luciana, M. (2014). Effects of reward sensitivity and regional brain volumes on substance use initiation in adolescence. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10 (1), 106-113.

Ernst, M. & Luciana, M. (2015). Neuroimaging of the dopamine/reward system in adolescent drug use
CNS spectrums 20 (04), 427-441.

Luciana, M., Ewing, S.W.F. (2015). Introduction to the special issue: Substance use and the adolescent brain: Developmental impacts, interventions, and longitudinal outcomes Developmental cognitive neuroscience 16, 1-4.

Longitudinal brain and behavioral effects of marijuana use in adolescent-onset users

In addition to alcohol, marijuana is one of the most commonly used substances of abuse among adolescents and young adults. Its effects on the brain and on behavior are poorly understood. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and NIAAA, we are examining the longitudinal impacts of heavy chronic marijuana use in college-aged individuals who began to use the drug when they were teenagers. Findings to date suggest that heavy marijuana use is associated with disruptions in working memory, planning skills, verbal learning and memory, and motivated decision-making. We also find evidence of disruption in the young adult development of frontal white matter tracts and in striatal glutamate activity.

Selected Publications:

Muetzel, R., Marjańska, M,  Collins, P.F., Petrosko, M., Valabrègue, P., Auerbach, E.J., Lim, K.O., Luciana, M. (2013). In Vivo 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy in young-adult daily marijuana users.  Neuroimage-Clinical, 2, 581-589.

Becker, M.P., Collins, P.F., & Luciana, M.  (2014). Neurocognition in college-aged daily marijuana users.  Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 36 (4), 379-398. Selected as one of the journal’s top-downloaded papers for 2014.

Becker, MP,  Collins, PF,  Lim, KO, Muetzel, RL.,  Luciana, M. (2015). Longitudinal changes in white matter microstructure after heavy cannabis use, Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 16, 23-35

Becker, M., Collins, P.F., Schultz, A., Urosevic, S. Schmaling, B., Luciana, M. (2017). Longitudinal change in cognition in young adult cannabis users. Submitted to Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2017.1385729

Camchong, J.Y., Collins, P.F., Becker, M.P., Lim, KO., Luciana, M. (2019). Longitudinal changes in resting brain connectivity in nontreatment seeking young adults with cannabis use disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry,

Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study

The University of Minnesota is a performance site for the 21-site ABCD Consortium (, which has enrolled nearly 12,000 families. Together with Professor Bill Iacono who co-directs the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family ResearchMonica Luciana oversees the University of Minnesota’s ABCD performance site, which is following singletons and twins, ages 9-10.

Selected Publications:

Iacono, W.G., Heath, A.C., Hewitt, J., Neale, M., Banich, M., Luciana, M., Barch, D. (2018). The utility of twins in developmental clinical neuroscience research: How twins strengthen the ABCD research design. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 32, 30-42.

Luciana, M., Bjork, J.M., Nagel, B., Barch, D.M., Gonzalez, R., Nixon, S.J., Banich, M.T. (2018). Adolescent neurocognitive development and impacts of substance use: Overview of the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) baseline neurocognition battery. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 32, 67-79.

Ewing, SF, Bjork, J.M., Luciana, M. (2018). Implications of the ABCD study for developmental neuroscience. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 32, 161-164.

Thompson,W., Barch, D., Bjork, J.M., Gonzalez, R., Nagel, B., Nixon, S.J., Luciana, M. (2018). The structure of cognition in 9-10 year-old children and associations with problem behaviors: Findings from the ABCD study’s baseline neurocognitive battery. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience  

Thijssen, S., Collins, PF, Luciana, M. (2019). Pubertal development mediates the association between family environment and brain development in childhood. Development and Psychopathology. Published on-line July 1, 2019: 

Hagler, D. et al. (over 100 authors). (2019) Image processing and analysis methods for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. Neuroimage. 116091. 

Sripada, C., Rutherford, S., Angstadt, A., Thompson, WK, Luciana, M., Weigard, A., Hyde, L., Heitzeg, M. (2019). Prediction of neurocognitive profiles in youth from resting state fMRI. Molecular Psychiatry. 

Neurobehavioral impacts of medical cannabis treatment