Effects of Methylphenidate on the Catecholaminergic System in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

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Stimulants are part of the standard-of-care treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Methylphenidate, with a history of use spanning approximately 5 decades, is a first-line stimulant treatment for ADHD. Methylphenidate chiefly affects the prefrontal cortex and striatum, the mechanism of action being modulation of catecholaminergic tone. Methylphenidate treatment produces an increase in dopamine (DA) signaling through multiple actions, including blockade of the DA reuptake transporter and amplification of DA response duration, disinhibition of DA D2 autoreceptors and amplification of DA tone, and activation of D1 receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. The actions of methylphenidate may also be mediated by stimulation of the noradrenergic α2 receptor and DA D1 receptor in the cortex. The role of other neurotransmitters such as histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, and α-agonists in modulating catecholamine pathophysiology in ADHD and ADHD treatment needs to be elucidated. Overall, the changes in catecholaminergic tone clinically manifest as improvements in attention deficit, distractibility, and motor hyperactivity in patients with ADHD.

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