The brain continues to develop during adolescence, and exposure to exogenous substances such as nicotine can exert long-lasting adaptations during this vulnerable period. In order to fully understand how nicotine affects the adolescent brain it is important to understand normal adolescent brain development. This review summarizes human and animal data on brain development, with emphasis on the prefrontal cortex, for its important function in executive control over behavior. Moreover, we discuss how nicotine exposure during adolescence can disrupt brain development bearing long-term consequences on executive cognitive function in adulthood. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.