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Pediatric Use of ADHD Drug may Affect Developing Brain

The use of Ritalin, a stimulant similar to amphetamine and cocaine which is one of the most prescribed drugs for the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), by young children may cause long-term changes in the developing brains, according to a study of mice by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

"The changes we saw in the brains of treated rats occurred in areas strongly linked to higher executive functioning, addiction and appetite, social relationships and stress. These alterations gradually disappeared over time once the rats no longer received the drug," notes the study's senior author Dr. Teresa Milner, Professor of Neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College.

She suggests that doctors must exercise a lot of care as they diagnose ADHD and before prescribing Ritalin because the brain changes noted in the study though might be helpful in battling the behaviour disorder, can prove harmful if the drug is given to youngsters with healthy brain chemistry.

In the course of study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers injected week-old male rat pups with Ritalin twice a day during their more physically active night-time phase. The animals continued receiving the injections up until they were 35 days old.

"Relative to human lifespan, this would correspond to very early stages of brain development. That's earlier than the age at which most children now receive Ritalin, although there are clinical studies underway that are testing the drug in 2- and 3-year olds," explains Jason Gray, a graduate student in the Program of Neuroscience and lead author of the study.

The researchers first looked at behavioural changes in the treated rats, and discovered that Ritalin use was linked to a decline in weight. In the "elevated-plus maze" and "open field" tests, rats examined in adulthood three months after discontinuing the drug displayed fewer signs of an
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