Background: Modafinil, a novel cognitive enhancer, has a clinical profile similar to conventional stimulants such as methylphenidate, despite a seemingly different mechanism of action. Modafinil selectively improves neuropsychological task performance in healthy volunteers, possibly through improved inhibitory control. We examined whether modafinil induced similar improvements in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Methods: Twenty patients with a DSM-IV diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder were entered into a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study using a single 200 mg dose of modafinil.
Results: Modafinil produced a similar pattern of cognitive enhancement to that observed in healthy adults, with improvements on tests of short-term memory span, visual memory, spatial planning, and stop-signal motor inhibition. On several measures, increased accuracy was accompanied by slowed response latency. This alteration in the speed-accuracy trade-off may indicate that modafinil increases the ability to "reflect" on problems coupled with decreased impulsive responding. Improvements were also seen in sustained attention, which was unaffected in healthy subjects.
Conclusions: If these benefits are shown to be maintained with chronic administration, modafinil may have potential as an important therapy for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder with a similar effect to stimulants such as methylphenidate in improving stop-signal response inhibition but without the side effects commonly experienced with amphetamine-like drugs.