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Behavioral reactivity to a noradrenergic challenge after chronic oral methylphenidate (Ritalin®) in rats

Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2004.09.021
  • Methylphenidate
  • Yohimbine
  • Plus-Maze
  • Predator Odor Test
  • Social Interaction Test
  • Defensive Behavior
  • Pharmacology


Abstract Methylphenidate (Ritalin®) is routinely used for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is a psychomotor stimulant with pharmacodynamics similar to those established for cocaine and amphetamine with primary activation of the noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems. Long-term exposure to psychostimulants including methylphenidate (MPD) is believed to result in enduring functional changes along both these pathways and various behaviors mediated by these systems may be affected. In the present experiment, the effects of intermittent oral administration of methylphenidate (10 mg/kg) to rats over a 4-week period were subsequently (after a drug washout interval) assessed in three animal models sensitive to noradrenergic manipulation: the elevated plus-maze, predator odor avoidance, and social interaction tests. The behaviors of methylphenidate-experienced animals were compared with untreated controls. Thirty minutes prior to testing, half the animals with each of these histories received an injection of yohimbine hydrochloride (2.0 mg/kg), an α 2-adrenoreceptor blocker intended to evoke noradrenergic system activation, while the remainder received a saline injection. Yohimbine was expected to reduce both exploration of novel stimuli and interaction with conspecifics, and it was predicted that methylphenidate would potentiate these effects. Relative to saline-tested controls, rats that received both the methylphenidate treatment and the yohimbine challenge exhibited the least exploration in the predator odor test and the lowest duration of interaction with an unfamiliar conspecific partner in the social interaction test. The behavior patterns observed in this group of rats suggest heightened emotionality and defensiveness that are typically seen when rats are administered drugs known to be anxiogenic in human subjects. In the plus-maze, exploratory locomotor activities remained unaltered by either drug while yohimbine decreased risk-assessment behaviors, an effect that remained uninfluenced by methylphenidate pretreatment.

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