But new work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is now starting to clear up some of the mystery. Writing in the journal Biological Psychiatry, UW-Madison researchers report that ADHD drugs primarily target the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region of the brain that is associated with attention, decision-making and an individual's expression of personality.
The finding could prove invaluable in the search for new ADHD treatments, and comes amidst deep public concern over the widespread abuse of existing ADHD medicines.
"There's been a lot of concern over giving a potentially addictive drug to a child [with ADHD]," says lead author Craig Berridge, a UW-Madison professor of psychology. "But in order to come up with a better drug we must first know what the existing drugs do."
A behavioral disorder that afflicts both children and adults, ADHD is marked by hyperactivity, impulsivity and an inability to concentrate. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 2 million children in the U.S. suffer from the condition, with between 30 to 70 percent of them continuing to exhibit symptoms in their adult years.
Despite public anxiety over the treatment of a behavioral condition with pharmacological drugs, doctors have continued to prescribe meds like Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine because - quite simply - they work better than anything else.
ADHD drugs fall into a class of medications known as stimulants. ADHD stimulants boost levels of two neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the brain, known as dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is thought to play a role in memory formation and the onset of addictive behaviors, while norepinephrine has been linked with arousal and attentiveness.
Berridge notes that scientists have learned little about how ADHD drugs work because past studies have primarily examined the effects of the medicines at high doses. High-dose stimulants can cause dramatic spikes in neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which can in turn impair attention and heighten the risk of developing addiction.
"It is surprising that no one was looking at low-dose [ADHD] drugs because we know that the drugs are most effective only at low doses," says Berridge. "So we asked the natural question: what are these drugs doing at clinically relevant doses?"
To answer that question, Berridge and his team monitored neurotransmitter levels in three different brain regions thought to be targeted by ADHD drugs: the PFC and two smaller brain areas known as the accumbens which has been linked with processing "rewards," and the medial septum, which has been implicated in arousal and movement.
Working with rats, the researchers conducted laboratory and behavioral tests to ensure that animal drug doses were functionally equivalent to doses prescribed in humans. Then, using a type of brain probe - a process known as microdialysis - the UW-Madison team measured concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine in the three different brain areas, both in the presence and absence of low-dose ADHD stimulants.
Under the influence of ADHD drugs, dopamine and norepinephrine levels increased in the rats' PFC. Levels in the accumbens and medial septum, however, remained much the same, the scientists found.
"Our work provides pretty important information on the importance of targeting the PFC when treating ADHD," says Berridge, "In particular it tells us that if we want to produce new ADHD drugs, we need to target [neurotransmitter] transmission in the PFC."
In the future, Berridge and his colleagues plan to look deeper within the PFC to gain more detailed insights into how ADHD meds act on nerves to enhance cognitive ability.
Other researchers who contributed to the study include UW-Madison co-authors David Devilbiss, Matthew Andrzejewski, Ann Kelley, Brooke Schmeichel, Christina Hamilton and Robert Spencer, and Yale Medical School researcher Amy Arnsten.
Craig Berridge | EurekAlert!
Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland
Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
23.03.2017 | Life Sciences
23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences