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Study uncovers how Ritalin works in brain to boost cognition, focus attention
Date:6/24/2008

therapeutic effects of Ritalin likely stem from this fine-tuning of PFC sensitivity," says Berridge. "You're improving the ability of these neurons to respond to behaviorally relevant signals, and that translates into better cognition, attention and working memory." Higher doses associated with drug abuse and cognitive impairment, in contrast, impair functioning of the PFC.

More intriguing still were the results that came from tuning into the entire chorus of neurons at once. When groups of neurons were already "singing" together strongly, Ritalin reinforced this coordinated activity. At the same time, the drug weakened activity that wasn't well coordinated to begin with. All of this suggests that Ritalin strengthens dominant and important signals within the PFC, while lessening weaker signals that may act as distractors, says Berridge.

"These results show a new level of action for cognition-enhancing doses of Ritalin that couldn't have been predicted from single neuron analyses," he says. "So, if you're searching for drugs that might replace Ritalin, this is one effect you could potentially look for."

He and Devilbiss also hope the research will help unravel an even deeper mystery: exactly how neurons encode complex behavior and cognition.

"Most studies look at how something that impairs cognition affects PFC neurons. But to really understand how neurons encode cognitive function, you want to see what neurons do when cognition is improved," says Berridge. "So this work sets the stage for examining the interplay among PFC neurons, higher cognition, and the action of therapeutic drugs."


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Contact: David Devilbiss
ddevilbiss@wisc.edu
608-265-8722
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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