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.

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Keywords ADHD, Age, CBF, Methylphenidate, phMRI, Stimulants
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Journal Brain Imaging and Behavior
Schrantee, A. (Anouk), Bouziane, C, Bron, E.E, Klein, S, Bottelier, M.A., Kooij, J.J.S., … Reneman, L. (2017). Long-term effects of stimulant exposure on cerebral blood flow response to methylphenidate and behavior in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 1–9. doi:10.1007/s11682-017-9707-x