• attention-deficit;
  • hyperactivity disorder;
  • CaMKII;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • psychostimulant drugs;
  • rats


Stimulant drugs such as amphetamine have, for many decades, been the drugs of choice in the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. However, little is known about their therapeutic mechanisms or about the consequences of their long-term exposure. In the present study we investigated whether repeated exposure of a low dose of amphetamine (0.5 mg/kg) to juvenile rats could induce long-term morphological alterations in the prefrontal cortex. In addition, to assess possible behavioural consequences of prolonged exposure to this drug, we examined whether changes in the motor response to various dopamine agonists occurred after this treatment. We found that this dose of amphetamine promotes plasma concentrations of amphetamine sulphate in juvenile rats to levels corresponding to the clinical range used for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Amphetamine (0.5 mg/kg; s.c.) was administered twice daily during postnatal days 22–34, and then the brains of the animals were evaluated 2 weeks later. This treatment produced an increase in dendritic length and branches of pyramidal neurons of the medial prefrontal cortex, but not in the nucleus accumbens. These changes were associated with an increase in the expression of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II, a highly abundant signalling protein in the postsynaptic densities of excitatory synapses. Interestingly, amphetamine pre-treatment did not alter the motor response to various dopamine agonists, including amphetamine. These data suggest that clinical doses of stimulant drugs may be acting as a trophic support at the glutamatergic synapses, thereby enhancing dopamine–glutamate interactions in the prefrontal cortex.