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Catecholamine modulation of prefrontal cortical cognitive function

by A. F T Arnsten
Trends in Cognitive Sciences ()

Abstract

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) utilizes working memory to guide behavior and to release the organism from dependence on environmental cues and is commonly disrupted in neuropsychiatric disorders, normal aging, or exposure to uncontrollable stress. This review posits that the PFC is very sensitive to changes in the neuromodulatory inputs it receives from norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA) systems and that this sensitivity can lead to marked changes in the working-memory functions of the PFC. While NE and DA have important beneficial influences on processing in this area, very high levels of catecholamine release, for example, during exposure to uncontrollable stress, disrupt the cognitive functions of the PFC. This fresh understanding of the neurochemical influences on PFC function has led to new treatments for cognitive disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and may help to elucidate the prevalence of PFC dysfunction in other mental disorders.

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