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Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2014 Apr;22(2):154-65. doi: 10.1037/a0034465. Epub 2013 Nov 4.

The effects of methylphenidate on cerebral activations to salient stimuli in healthy adults.

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Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Yale University School of Medicine.
Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine.
Investigational Drug Service, Yale New Haven Hospital.
Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine.


Detection of a salient stimulus is critical to cognitive functioning. A stimulus is salient when it appears infrequently, carries high motivational value, and/or when it dictates changes in behavior. Individuals with neurological conditions that implicate altered catecholaminergic signaling, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are impaired in detecting salient stimuli, a deficit that can be remediated by catecholaminergic medications. However, the effects of these catecholaminergic agents on cerebral activities during saliency processing within the context of the stop-signal task are not clear. Here, we examined the effects of a single oral dose (45 mg) of methylphenidate in 24 healthy adults performing the stop-signal task during functional MRI (fMRI). Compared to 92 demographically matched adults who did not receive any medications, the methylphenidate group showed higher activations in bilateral caudate head, primary motor cortex, and the right inferior parietal cortex during stop as compared to go trials (p < .05, corrected for family-wise error of multiple comparisons). These results show that methylphenidate enhances saliency processing by promoting specific cerebral regional activities. These findings may suggest a neural basis for catecholaminergic treatment of attention disorders.

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