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Prog Neurobiol. 2013 Jan;100:60-80. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2012.10.001. Epub 2012 Oct 17.

Addiction-related gene regulation: risks of exposure to cognitive enhancers vs. other psychostimulants.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, The Chicago Medical School, North Chicago, IL 60064, United States.


The psychostimulants methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta), amphetamine (Adderall), and modafinil (Provigil) are widely used in the treatment of medical conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy and, increasingly, as "cognitive enhancers" by healthy people. The long-term neuronal effects of these drugs, however, are poorly understood. A substantial amount of research over the past two decades has investigated the effects of psychostimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines on gene regulation in the brain because these molecular changes are considered critical for psychostimulant addiction. This work has determined in some detail the neurochemical and cellular mechanisms that mediate psychostimulant-induced gene regulation and has also identified the neuronal systems altered by these drugs. Among the most affected brain systems are corticostriatal circuits, which are part of cortico-basal ganglia-cortical loops that mediate motivated behavior. The neurotransmitters critical for such gene regulation are dopamine in interaction with glutamate, while other neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin) play modulatory roles. This review presents (1) an overview of the main findings on cocaine- and amphetamine-induced gene regulation in corticostriatal circuits in an effort to provide a cellular framework for (2) an assessment of the molecular changes produced by methylphenidate, medical amphetamine (Adderall), and modafinil. The findings lead to the conclusion that protracted exposure to these cognitive enhancers can induce gene regulation effects in corticostriatal circuits that are qualitatively similar to those of cocaine and other amphetamines. These neuronal changes may contribute to the addiction liability of the psychostimulant cognitive enhancers.

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