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Int J Dev Neurosci. 2004 Aug-Oct;22(5-6):423-40.

Altering the course of neurodevelopment: a framework for understanding the enduring effects of psychotropic drugs.

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Department of Psychiatry, McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478, USA.


Childhood is a time filled with wondrous changes, as brain plasticity permits experiences to shape the immature brain to meet the demands of the environment. Change occurs at various levels--from neuroanatomy, including within a given region and its connectivity to other regions, to the function of neurotransmitter systems and their reactivity to pharmacological agents in the short- and long-term. The nature and degree to which drug exposure influences the final adult topography is influenced greatly by the maturational phase of these critical factors. Moreover, evidence is slowly emerging that suggests that the long-term effects of drug exposure are delayed and expressed once the vulnerable system reaches maturation (i.e., typically during adulthood). This phenomenon is known as neuronal imprinting and occurs when the effects of drug exposure outlast the drug itself. Thus, understanding the persistent effects critically depends on the window of observation. Embracing this concept should influence how we conduct preclinical assessments of developmental drug exposure, and ultimately how we conduct clinical assessments of drug efficacy, effectiveness, and safety for the treatment of childhood psychiatric disorders. In this article, we present a model to provide a heuristic framework for making predictions about imprinted effects of childhood drug exposure. We then review epidemiological data on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and childhood depression, prescription practices, and what is known regarding the long-term consequences of drug exposure in these populations. We conclude with a discussion of the current status of preclinical studies on juvenile stimulant exposure.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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