The symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) involve impairments in prefrontal cortical top-down regulation of attention and behavior. All current pharmacological treatments for ADHD facilitate catecholamine transmission, and basic research suggests that these compounds have prominent actions in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The dorsolateral PFC is especially sensitive to levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, whereby either too little or too much markedly impairs PFC function. Recent physiological studies have shown that norepinephrine strengthens PFC network connectivity and maintains persistent firing during a working memory task through stimulation of postsynaptic α2A-adrenoceptors on PFC neurons. Conversely, dopamine acts at D1 receptors to narrow spatial tuning, sculpting network inputs to decrease noise (i.e., stabilization of the representation). The stimulant medications and atomoxetine appear to enhance PFC function by indirectly increasing these catecholamine actions through blockade of norepinephrine and/or dopamine transporters. In contrast, guanfacine mimics the enhancing effects of norepinephrine at postsynaptic α2A-receptors in the PFC, strengthening network connectivity. Stronger PFC regulation of attention, behavior, and emotion likely contributes to the therapeutic effects of these medications for the treatment of ADHD. © 2011 Society of Biological Psychiatry.
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