Methylphenidate enhances brain activation and deactivation responses to visual attention and working memory tasks in healthy controls

Neuroimage. 2011 Feb 14;54(4):3101-10. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.10.060. Epub 2010 Oct 26.


Methylphenidate (MPH) is a stimulant drug that amplifies dopamineric and noradrenergic signaling in the brain, which is believed to underlie its cognition enhancing effects. However, the neurobiological effects by which MPH improves cognition are still poorly understood. Here, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used together with working memory (WM) and visual attention (VA) tasks to test the hypothesis that 20mg oral MPH would increase activation in the dorsal attention network (DAN) and deactivation in the default mode network (DMN) as well as improve performance during cognitive tasks in healthy men. The group of subjects that received MPH (MPH group; N=16) had higher activation than the group of subjects who received no medication (control group: N=16) in DAN regions (parietal and prefrontal cortex, regions increasingly activated with increased cognitive load) and had increased deactivation in the insula and posterior cingulate cortex (regions increasingly deactivated with increased cognitive load) and these effects did not differ for the VA and the WM tasks. These findings provide the first evidence that MPH enhances activation of the DAN whereas it alters DMN deactivation. This suggests that MPH (presumably by amplifying dopamine and noradrenergic signaling) modulates cognition in part through its effects on DAN and DMN.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Methylphenidate / pharmacology*
  • Photic Stimulation


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methylphenidate