Stimulant prescription rates for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are increasing, even though potential long-term effects on the developing brain have not been well-studied. A previous randomized clinical trial showed short-term age-dependent effects of stimulants on the DA system. We here assessed the long-term modifying effects of age-of-first-stimulant treatment on the human brain and behavior. 81 male adult ADHD patients were stratified into three groups: 1) early stimulant treatment (EST; <16 years of age) 2) late stimulant treatment (LST: ≥23 years of age) and 3) stimulant treatment naive (STN; no history of stimulant treatment). We used pharmacological magnetic resonance imaging (phMRI) to assess the cerebral blood flow (CBF) response to an oral methylphenidate challenge (MPH, 0.5 mg/kg), as an indirect measure of dopamine function in fronto-striatal areas. In addition, mood and anxiety scores, and recreational drug use were assessed. Baseline ACC CBF was lower in the EST than the STN group (p = 0.03), although CBF response to MPH was similar between the three groups (p = 0.23). ADHD symptom severity was higher in the STN group compared to the other groups (p < 0.01). In addition, the EST group reported more depressive symptoms (p = 0.04), but not anxiety (p = 0.26), and less recreational drug use (p = 0.04). In line with extensive pre-clinical data, our data suggest that early, but not late, stimulant treatment long-lastingly affects the human brain and behavior, possibly indicating fundamental changes in the dopamine system.
Schrantee, A., Bouziane, C., Bron, E. E., Klein, S., Bottelier, M. A., Kooij, J. J. S., ... Reneman, L. (2018). Long-term effects of stimulant exposure on cerebral blood flow response to methylphenidate and behavior in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 12(2), 402-410. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-017-9707-x