Modulatory effects of modafinil on neural circuits regulating emotion and cognition.

Clinical Brain Disorders Branch: Genes, Cognition, and Psychosis Program, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (Impact Factor: 8.68). 09/2010; 35(10):2101-9. DOI: 10.1038/npp.2010.83
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Modafinil differs from other arousal-enhancing agents in chemical structure, neurochemical profile, and behavioral effects. Most functional neuroimaging studies to date examined the effect of modafinil only on information processing underlying executive cognition, but cognitive enhancers in general have been shown to have pronounced effects on emotional behavior, too. We examined the effect of modafinil on neural circuits underlying affective processing and cognitive functions. Healthy volunteers were enrolled in this double-blinded placebo-controlled trial (100 mg/day for 7 days). They underwent BOLD fMRI while performing an emotion information-processing task that activates the amygdala and two prefrontally dependent cognitive tasks-a working memory (WM) task and a variable attentional control (VAC) task. A clinical assessment that included measurement of blood pressure, heart rate, the Hamilton anxiety scale, and the profile of mood state (POMS) questionnaire was also performed on each test day. BOLD fMRI revealed significantly decreased amygdala reactivity to fearful stimuli on modafinil compared with the placebo condition. During executive cognition tasks, a WM task and a VAC task, modafinil reduced BOLD signal in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate. Although not statistically significant, there were trends for reduced anxiety, for decreased fatigue-inertia and increased vigor-activity, as well as decreased anger-hostility on modafinil. Modafinil in low doses has a unique physiologic profile compared with stimulant drugs: it enhances the efficiency of prefrontal cortical cognitive information processing, while dampening reactivity to threatening stimuli in the amygdala, a brain region implicated in anxiety.

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    ABSTRACT: Cognitive enhancement is perhaps one of the most intriguing and controversial topics in neuroscience today. Currently, the main classes of drugs used as potential cognitive enhancers include psychostimulants (methylphenidate (MPH), amphetamine), but wakefulness-promoting agents (modafinil) and glutamate activators (ampakine) are also frequently used. Pharmacologically, substances that enhance the components of the memory/learning circuits-dopamine, glutamate (neuronal excitation), and/or norepinephrine-stand to improve brain function in healthy individuals beyond their baseline functioning. In particular, non-medical use of prescription stimulants such as MPH and illicit use of psychostimulants for cognitive enhancement have seen a recent rise among teens and young adults in schools and college campuses. However, this enhancement likely comes with a neuronal, as well as ethical, cost. Altering glutamate function via the use of psychostimulants may impair behavioral flexibility, leading to the development and/or potentiation of addictive behaviors. Furthermore, dopamine and norepinephrine do not display linear effects; instead, their modulation of cognitive and neuronal function maps on an inverted-U curve. Healthy individuals run the risk of pushing themselves beyond optimal levels into hyperdopaminergic and hypernoradrenergic states, thus vitiating the very behaviors they are striving to improve. Finally, recent studies have begun to highlight potential damaging effects of stimulant exposure in healthy juveniles. This review explains how the main classes of cognitive enhancing drugs affect the learning and memory circuits, and highlights the potential risks and concerns in healthy individuals, particularly juveniles and adolescents. We emphasize the performance enhancement at the potential cost of brain plasticity that is associated with the neural ramifications of nootropic drugs in the healthy developing brain.
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