Pharmacokinetics and clinical effectiveness of methylphenidate

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1999 Dec;37(6):457-70. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199937060-00002.


Methylphenidate is prescribed for over 90% of children in the US diagnosed as having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although ADHD has been widely studied, the use of methylphenidate in ADHD still poses a number of unresolved questions, including its pharmacodynamic characteristics (drug concentration-effect relationship) and the effect of long term treatment on the patient's psychopathology later in life. The objective of this review is to provide an analysis of the pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic properties and therapeutic effectiveness of methylphenidate that may help to answer some of these questions. Methylphenidate has 2 chiral centres, but the drug used in therapy comprises only the threo pair of enantiomers. d-threo-Methylphenidate is more potent than the l-enantiomer. Methylphenidate is administered as a racemic mixture that undergoes stereoselective clearance. Methylphenidate is a short-acting stimulant with a duration of action of 1 to 4 hours and a pharmacokinetic half-life of 2 to 3 hours. Maximum drug concentration after oral administration occurs at about 2 hours. Methylphenidate is absorbed well from the gastrointestinal tract and easily passes to the brain. Methylphenidate is efficacious for short term treatment for children with ADHD. Its mechanism of action is not understood, but may be associated with its influence on multiple neurotransmitters, especially the release and reuptake of dopamine in the striatum. There is marked individual variability in the dose-response relationship for methylphenidate, and therefore dosage must be titrated for optimal effect and avoidance of toxicity in each child. It is unclear whether this variability is predominantly pharmacokinetic or pharmacodynamic. If variable stereoselective metabolism occurs clinically, therapeutic drug monitoring of methylphenidate will require the application of chiral assay methods for the analysis of the active component, d-threo-methylphenidate. It is difficult to predict which children will have a favourable response to methylphenidate. Nonetheless, several studies have been published linking the severity of ADHD in children with improved clinical response to methylphenidate. The use of individual single-blind medication trials may be a practical solution to this problem. Additionally, the targeted condition warrants careful consideration, since different conditions (e.g. misbehaviour or poor academic performance) may require different regimens. Further studies of the relationship between the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of methylphenidate are required to allow the development of optimal dosage regimens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacokinetics*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Methylphenidate / pharmacokinetics*
  • Methylphenidate / therapeutic use*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methylphenidate