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Neuroscience. 2005;132(3):855-65.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) induces Homer 1a and zif 268 expression in specific corticostriatal circuits.

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  • 1Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science/The Chicago Medical School, North Chicago, IL 60064, USA.


Corticostriatal circuits participate in limbic, attentional, motor and other networks, and are implicated in psychostimulant addiction. The psychostimulant methylphenidate is used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and for recreational purposes. Recent studies indicate that methylphenidate alters gene expression in striatal neurons. We investigated whether methylphenidate affects gene regulation in specific corticostriatal circuits, by comparing drug-induced molecular changes in different functional domains of the striatum with changes in their cortical input regions. In order to assess the potential functional significance of methylphenidate-induced molecular changes, we examined members of two different classes of plasticity-related molecules, the transcription factor zif 268 and the synaptic plasticity factor Homer 1a. Acute methylphenidate administration in adult rats increased the expression of Homer 1a and zif 268 in both cortex and striatum in a dose-dependent and regionally selective manner. These changes in gene expression occurred after doses of 2 mg/kg (i.p.) and higher, and were highly correlated between cortical regions and their striatal targets. In the cortex, increases were maximal in the medial agranular (premotor) and cingulate cortex, followed by motor and somatosensory cortex, and were minimal in the insular cortex. Correspondingly, in the striatum, increases were most robust in sensorimotor sectors that receive medial agranular input, and were weaker or absent in ventral sectors. The methylphenidate-induced increases in cortical Homer 1a and zif 268 expression were also correlated with increases in striatal substance P and dynorphin expression (direct pathway). Overall, the regional distribution of methylphenidate-induced molecular changes in the striatum was similar to that of changes induced by psychostimulants such as cocaine. These findings demonstrate that methylphenidate affects transcription and synaptic plasticity regulatory proteins in specific corticostriatal circuits, including those implicated in attentional functions and psychostimulant addiction. Such methylphenidate-induced gene regulation may contribute to the therapeutic effects and/or abuse liability of this psychostimulant.

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