New Brookhaven Lab study shows how ritalin works

n 11 male subjects. In two sessions, the volunteers were each given a dose of Ritalin, calculated using their body weight to correspond to the doses given to children with ADHD, or a placebo. While their brains were scanned to record dopamine levels, the subjects were asked to rate their feeling of restlessness and "high." Meanwhile, physicians monitored each subjects blood pressure and heart rate.

The results showed that brain dopamine levels increased significantly approximately 60 minutes following ingestion of the drug as compared to the placebo. "We now know that by increasing the levels of extracellular dopamine, you can activate these motivational circuits and make the tasks that children are performing seem much more exciting," said Volkow. "By raising that level of interest, you can significantly increase the ability of the child to focus on the task."

Volkow added that Ritalin also works to suppress "background" firing of neurons not associated with task performance, allowing the brain to transmit a clearer signal. "Random activation of other cells can distract you, and children with ADHD are easily distracted," she said. "Ritalin suppresses that background firing and accentuates the specific activation, basically increasing the signal-to-noise ratio and increasing a childs ability to focus."

Volkow is now planning a follow-up study of subjects suffering from ADHD. "We hypothesize that we will find that ADHD sufferers have decreased function of dopamine circuits and are therefore easily distracted," she said. "The effect of Ritalin should be to normalize these levels, allowing them to focus and pay attention."

The findings also have important implications for another research area understanding why Ritalin, which is chemically quite similar to highly addictive cocaine, is not addictive when taken in pill form. One thing in common with all drugs of abuse is that they increase dopamine levels. Since oral doses of Ritalin do not produce a "h

Contact: Peter Genzer
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

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