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Dopaminergic and Noradrenergic Contributions to Functionality in ADHD: The Role of Methylphenidate

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a childhood psychiatric condition characterized by severe impulsiveness, inattention and overactivity. Methylphenidate (MPH), a psychostimulant affecting both the dopaminergic and the noradrenergic systems, is one of the most frequently prescribed treatments for ADHD. Despite the widespread use of MPH and its proven effectiveness, its precise neurochemical mechanisms of action are under debate. For the most part, MPH's influence on subcortical dopamine neurotransmission is thought to play a crucial role in its behavioral and cognitive effects. In their hypothesis of biphasic MPH action, Seeman and Madras [42, 43] suggest that therapeutic doses of MPH elevate tonic dopamine while inhibiting phasic transmitter release in subcortical structures, leading to reduced postsynaptic receptor stimulation and psychomotor activation in response to salient stimuli. Volkow and colleagues [56] suggest that by amplifying a weak striatal dopamine signal, MPH increases the perception of a stimulus or task as salient. The enhanced interest for the task is thought to increase attention and improve performance. Recent animal studies have however shown that when administered at doses producing clinically relevant drug plasma levels and enhancing cognitive function, MPH preferentially activates dopamine and noradrenaline efflux within the prefrontal cortex relative to the subcortical structures [5]. Overall, we suggest that the delineated theories of MPH therapeutic action should not be discussed as exclusive. Studies are outlined that allow integrating the different findings and models.

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Keywords: ADHD; dopamine; methylphenidate; noradrenaline; prefrontal; subcortical

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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  • Current Neuropharmacology aims to provide current, timely and comprehensive reviews of all areas of neuropharmacology and related matters of neuroscience. The journal publishes reviews written by experts and leaders in the fields of molecular, cellular, and systems/behavioural aspects of neuropharmacology and neuroscience. The journal serves as a comprehensive, multidisciplinary expert forum for neuropharmacologists and neuroscientists.
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