Methylphenidate treatment in adolescent rats with an attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder phenotype: cocaine addiction vulnerability and dopamine transporter function

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Mar;36(4):837-47. doi: 10.1038/npp.2010.223. Epub 2010 Dec 8.


Appropriate animal models of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and drug reinforcement allow investigation of possible underlying biological bases of ADHD and its comorbidity with cocaine addiction. Toward this end, spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs) exhibiting an ADHD phenotype were compared with Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) and Wistar (WIS) rats. Initially, 1.5 mg/kg oral methylphenidate or vehicle was administered between postnatal days 28 and 55, and acquisition of visual discrimination learning was examined. After discontinuing adolescent treatments, adult rats were evaluated for cocaine self-administration and dopamine transporter (DAT) function in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and striatum. During adolescence, SHRs showed deficits in visual discrimination relative to WKY and WIS rats when non-medicated. Methylphenidate improved visual discrimination only in SHRs. Compared with WKY and WIS rats, SHRs with previous methylphenidate treatment acquired cocaine self-administration faster, identified cocaine as a highly efficacious reinforcer by displaying an upward shift in the cocaine dose-response function, and showed the greatest motivation to self-administer cocaine by exhibiting the highest progressive ratio breakpoints. In the PFC, the maximal dopamine uptake (V(max)) at DAT was decreased in SHRs and increased in WKY and WIS rats by previous methylphenidate treatment. The affinity (K(m)) for dopamine at DAT in the PFC was not different between strains, nor was V(max) or K(m) altered in the striatum by previous methylphenidate treatment in any strain. Methylphenidate-induced decreases in dopamine clearance by DAT in the PFC may underlie increased cocaine self-administration in SHRs. These preclinical findings suggest that caution should be exercised when methylphenidate is prescribed for first-time treatment of ADHD in adolescent patients, as cocaine addiction vulnerability may be augmented.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / drug therapy*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Behavior, Addictive / chemically induced
  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics*
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Discrimination Learning / drug effects
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / physiology*
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate / therapeutic use
  • Methylphenidate / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred SHR
  • Rats, Inbred WKY
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Species Specificity


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Methylphenidate