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J Neurosci. 2011 Jul 13;31(28):10347-58. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1470-11.2011.

Juvenile administration of concomitant methylphenidate and fluoxetine alters behavioral reactivity to reward- and mood-related stimuli and disrupts ventral tegmental area gene expression in adulthood.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Program in Neuroscience, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306, USA.


There is a rise in the concurrent use of methylphenidate (MPH) and fluoxetine (FLX) in pediatric populations. However, the long-term neurobiological consequences of combined MPH and FLX treatment (MPH + FLX) during juvenile periods are unknown. We administered saline (VEH), MPH, FLX, or MPH + FLX to juvenile Sprague Dawley male rats from postnatal day 20 to 34, and assessed their reactivity to reward- and mood-related stimuli 24 h or 2 months after drug exposure. We also assessed mRNA and protein levels within the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to determine the effect of MPH, FLX, or MPH + FLX on the extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase-1/2 (ERK) pathway--a signaling cascade implicated in motivation and mood regulation. MPH + FLX enhanced sensitivity to drug (i.e., cocaine) and sucrose rewards, as well as anxiety (i.e., elevated plus maze)- and stress (i.e., forced swimming)-eliciting situations when compared with VEH-treated rats. MPH + FLX exposure also increased mRNA of ERK2 and its downstream targets cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB), BDNF, c-Fos, early growth response protein-1 (Zif268), and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), and also increased protein phosphorylation of ERK2, CREB, and mTOR 2 months after drug exposure when compared with VEH-treated rats. Using herpes simplex virus-mediated gene transfer to block ERK2 activity within the VTA, we rescued the MPH and FLX-induced behavioral deficits seen in the forced-swimming task 2 months after drug treatment. These results indicate that concurrent MPH + FLX exposure during preadolescence increases sensitivity to reward-related stimuli while simultaneously enhancing susceptibility to stressful situations, at least in part, due to long-lasting disruptions in ERK signaling within the VTA.

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