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Pediatric Use of ADHD Drug may Affect Developing Brain

xiety compared to untreated rodents.

"That was a bit of a surprise because we thought a stimulant might cause the rats to behave in a more anxious manner," Dr. Milner says.

The researchers also used high-tech methods to track changes in both the chemical neuroanatomy and structure of the treated rats' brains at postnatal day 35, which is roughly equivalent to the adolescent period.

"These brain tissue findings revealed Ritalin-associated changes in four main areas. First, we noticed alterations in brain chemicals such as catecholamines and norepinephrine in the rats' prefrontal cortex a part of the mammalian brain responsible for higher executive thinking and decision-making. There were also significant changes in catecholamine function in the hippocampus, a center for memory and learning," Dr. Milner says.

The researchers also saw treatment-linked alterations in striatum, a brain region known to be key to motor function, and in the hypothalamus, a centre for appetite, arousal and addictive behaviours.

Three months after the rats had stopped receiving Ritalin, the animals' neurochemistry largely resolved back to the pre-treatment state.

"That's encouraging, and supports the notion that this drug therapy may be best used over a relatively short period of time, to be replaced or supplemented with behavioural therapy," Dr. Milner says.

Dr. Milner, however, admits that it is too early to say whether the changes noted in the Ritalin-exposed brain will be of either benefit or harm to humans.

"One thing to remember is that these young animals had normal, healthy brains. In ADHD-affected brains where the neurochemistry is already somewhat awry or the brain might be developing too fast these changes might help 'reset' that balance in a healthy way. On the other hand, in brains without ADHD, Ritalin might have a more negative effect. We just don't know yet," she
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