Executive (dys)function after traumatic brain injury: special considerations for behavioral pharmacology

Behav Pharmacol. 2018 Oct;29(7):617-637. doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000430.


Executive function is an umbrella term that includes cognitive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, attention, behavioral flexibility, and working memory. Each of these processes depends largely upon monoaminergic (dopaminergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic) neurotransmission in the frontal cortex, striatum, and hippocampus, among other brain areas. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) induces disruptions in monoaminergic signaling along several steps in the neurotransmission process - synthesis, distribution, and breakdown - and in turn, produces long-lasting deficits in several executive function domains. Understanding how TBI alters monoamingeric neurotransmission and executive function will advance basic knowledge of the underlying principles that govern executive function and potentially further treatment of cognitive deficits following such injury. In this review, we examine the influence of TBI on the following measures of executive function - impulsivity, behavioral flexibility, and working memory. We also describe monoaminergic-systems changes following TBI. Given that TBI patients experience alterations in monoaminergic signaling following injury, they may represent a unique population with regard to pharmacotherapy. We conclude this review by discussing some considerations for pharmacotherapy in the field of TBI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biogenic Monoamines / therapeutic use*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / complications*
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Executive Function / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Psychopharmacology / methods*


  • Biogenic Monoamines