Exposure to oral methylphenidate from adolescence through young adulthood produces transient effects on hippocampal-sensitive memory in rats
Methylphenidate (MPH) is the most commonly prescribed medication used to treat the symptoms associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The increase in ADHD diagnosis and MPH use has raised concerns regarding the long-term consequences of early exposure to psychostimulants. Animals studies indicate that early developmental MPH treatment produces enduring changes in hippocampal-sensitive tasks, including novel object recognition (NOR) and long-term retention of contextual fear. We administered oral MPH to male Wistar rats at a therapeutically relevant dose (2 or 5 mg/kg) twice daily for 7 weeks beginning on post-natal day (PN) 27 through PN 71 (i.e., periadolescence through young adulthood). Behavioral tests began 18 days following the last MPH administration. MPH (5 mg/kg) produced an increase in the latency to reach criterion for sample object exploration during the first of two NOR tests, but did not produce memory deficits at either dose. MPH (5 mg/kg) enhanced freezing during the 24 h retention test, but did not affect responding at 48 h. Taken together, the results of both tasks suggest that treatment with MPH in a manner that approximates clinical exposure patterns transiently modifies hippocampal-sensitive learning in rats but does not produce cognitive impairments. We suggest that the effects of prolonged exposure to MPH treatment on cognitive processes vary as a function of the duration and pattern of drug administration, as well as task complexity, which may account for differences among studies regarding its long-term behavioral effects. Future preclinical studies examining the effects of early psychostimulant treatment should include different periods of exposure and assessment, as well as clinically relevant doses and routes of drug administration, in order to better understand the impact of pediatric medications on adult cognition.