Methylphenidate does not enhance visual working memory but benefits motivation in macaque monkeys

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Working memory is a limited-capacity cognitive process that retains relevant information temporarily to guide thoughts and behavior. A large body of work has suggested that catecholamines exert a major modulatory influence on cognition, but there is only equivocal evidence of a direct influence on working memory ability, which would be reflected in a dependence on working memory load. Here we tested the contribution of catecholamines to working memory by administering a wide range of acute oral doses of the dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor methylphenidate (MPH, 0.1–9 mg/kg) to three female macaque monkeys (Macaca mulatta), whose working memory ability was measured from their performance in a visual sequential comparison task. This task allows the systematic manipulation of working memory load, and we therefore tested the specific hypothesis that MPH modulates performance in a manner that depends on both dose and memory load. We found no evidence of a dose- or memory load-dependent effect of MPH on performance. In contrast, significant effects on measures of motivation were observed. These findings suggest that an acute increase in catecholamines does not seem to affect the retention of visual information per se. As such, these results help delimit the effects of MPH on cognition.HighlightsMPH has no dose- or memory-load dependent effect on working memory performance.MPH has a beneficial effect on task engagement.Findings support the hypothesis that catecholamines only play an indirect role in cognition.

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