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Keywords:

  • methylphenidate;
  • psychostimulant;
  • behavioral pharmacology;
  • catecholamines;
  • dopamine;
  • norepinephrine;
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Abstract

Amphetamine-like psychostimulant drugs have been used for decades to treat a variety of clinical conditions. Methylphenidate (MPH)—RitalinR, a compound that blocks reuptake of synaptically released norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA) in the brain, has been used for more than 30 years in low dose, long-term regimens to treat attention deficit-hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in juveniles, adolescents, and adults. Now, these agents are also becoming increasingly popular among healthy individuals from all walks of life (e.g., military, students) and age groups (teenagers thru senior citizens) to promote wakefulness and improve attention. Although there is agreement regarding the primary biochemical action of MPH, the physiological basis for its efficacy in normal individuals and ADHD patients is lacking. Study of the behavioral and physiological actions of clinically and behaviorally relevant doses of MPH in normal animals provides an opportunity to explore the role of catecholamine transmitters in prefrontal cortical function and attentional processes as they relate to normal operation of brain circuits and ADHD pathology. The goal of ongoing studies has been to: (1) assess the effects of low dose MPH on rodent performance in a well characterized sensory-guided sustained attention task, (2) examine the effects of the same low-dose chronic MPH administration on task-related discharge of prefrontal cortical (PFC) neurons, and (3) investigate the effects of NE and DA on membrane response properties and synaptic transmission in identified subsets of PFC neurons. Combinations of these approaches can be used in adolescent, adult, and aged animals to identify the parameters of cell and neural circuit function that are regulated by MPH and to establish an overarching explanation of how MPH impacts PFC operations from cellular through behavioral functional domains. Anat Rec,, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.