Chemistry of the adaptive mind

Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2004 Dec 15;362(1825):2871-88. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2004.1468.


A failure to adapt to novel or changing environmental demands is a core feature of a wide variety of neuropsychiatric disorders as well as the normal states of stress and fatigue. We review the neurochemistry of cognitive control, which has been associated primarily with the prefrontal cortex. Many drugs affect the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, but the direction and extent of drug effects vary across individuals and tasks. Apparently paradoxical effects are often observed, where the same medication causes both cognitive enhancement as well as cognitive side effects. We review neurobiological research that is beginning to elucidate the nature of these contrasting effects and the factors underlying the large variability across individuals and behaviours. The work has considerable implications for the understanding of and treatment development for abnormalities such as Parkinson's disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and drug addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects
  • Brain Chemistry*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / chemistry
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Dopamine Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Agonists / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex / chemistry
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Dopamine Agonists