Cognitive and emotional behavioural changes associated with methylphenidate treatment: a review of preclinical studies.
There is evidence from animal studies that repeated exposure to methylphenidate (MPH), a widely used psychostimulant for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), produces behavioural, structural and neurochemical changes that persist long after drug administration has ended. However, the translational utility of much of this work is compromised by the use of drug doses and routes of administration that produce plasma and brain MPH levels that fall outside the clinical range, i.e. experimental parameters more relevant to drug abuse than ADHD. We used PubMed to identify pre-clinical studies that employed repeated MPH administration at low doses in young rodents and examined long-term effects on cognition, emotion, and brain structure and function. A review of this work suggests that repeated MPH treatment during early development can modify a number of cognitive, behavioural and brain processes, but these are reduced when low therapeutic doses are employed. Moreover, MPH sites of action extend beyond those implicated in ADHD. Studies that combined neurobiological and behavioural approaches provide important insights into the mechanisms underlying MPH-produced effects on cognitive and behavioural processes, which may be relevant to MPH therapeutic efficacy. There is an emerging consensus that pharmacological treatment of childhood psychiatric disorders produces persistent neuroadaptations, highlighting the need for studies that assess long-term effects of early developmental pharmacotherapy. In this regard, studies that mimic clinical therapy with rodents are useful experimental approaches for defining the behavioural and neural plasticity associated with stimulant therapy in paediatric populations.