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Keywords:

  • caudate–putamen;
  • immediate-early gene;
  • psychostimulant;
  • rat

Abstract

The psychostimulant methylphenidate (Ritalin) is used in conjunction with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the treatment of medical conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder with anxiety/depression comorbidity and major depression. Co-exposure also occurs in patients on SSRIs who use psychostimulant ‘cognitive enhancers’. Methylphenidate is a dopamine/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that produces altered gene expression in the forebrain; these effects partly mimic gene regulation by cocaine (dopamine/norepinephrine/serotonin reuptake inhibitor). We investigated whether the addition of SSRIs (fluoxetine or citalopram; 5 mg/kg) modified gene regulation by methylphenidate (2–5 mg/kg) in the striatum and cortex of adolescent rats. Our results show that SSRIs potentiate methylphenidate-induced expression of the transcription factor genes zif268 and c-fos in the striatum, rendering these molecular changes more cocaine-like. Present throughout most of the striatum, this potentiation was most robust in its sensorimotor parts. The methylphenidate + SSRI combination also enhanced behavioral stereotypies, consistent with dysfunction in sensorimotor striatal circuits. In so far as such gene regulation is implicated in psychostimulant addiction, our findings suggest that SSRIs may enhance the addiction potential of methylphenidate.