Juvenile methylphenidate modulates reward-related behaviors and cerebral blood flow by decreasing cortical D3 receptors

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is associated with reduced cortical blood flow that is reversible with exposure to the psychostimulant methylphenidate (MPH). D3 dopamine receptors modulate stimulant-induced changes in blood flow and are associated with reward processing during young adulthood, but their role in the enduring effects of MPH during development is unknown. Rats were given vehicle (VEH) or MPH (2 mg/kg between postnatal days 20–35) and assessed in young adulthood for regional cerebral blood volume (rCBV) after MPH challenge and mRNA expression levels of dopamine receptors. To probe D3 receptor involvement, juvenile subjects were exposed to VEH, MPH, the D3-preferring agonist ±7-OHDPAT (0.3 mg/kg), the D3 antagonist nafadotride (Naf; 0.05, 0.5 or 5.0 mg/kg) or a Naf (0.05 mg/kg)/MPH combination, and assessed biochemically and behaviorally. Juvenile MPH exposure increased MPH-induced rCBV in the cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex and thalamus in adulthood. Behaviorally, juvenile MPH- or ±7-OHDPAT-exposed subjects demonstrated an aversion to cocaine-associated environments, which was prevented by juvenile co-treatment with MPH and Naf, or with adult cortical microinjections of ±7-OHDPAT. Cortical D3 mRNA levels significantly decreased by 23.8 ± 6.7% in MPH-treated subjects and normalized with combined Naf/MPH treatment, with no change in the other dopamine receptors. Enhanced cortical responsiveness to psychostimulants may occur through a reduction in D3 receptors, which in turn reduces drug-seeking behavior. These data provide evidence for a postnatal sensitive period when juvenile MPH exposure is able to alter cortical development.

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