Methylphenidate Enhances Early-Stage Sensory Processing and Rodent Performance of a Visual Signal Detection Task

Rachel L. Navarra, Brian D. Clark, Andrew T. Gargiulo, Barry D. Waterhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Methylphenidate (MPH) is used clinically to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and off-label as a performance-enhancing agent in healthy individuals. MPH enhances catecholamine transmission via blockade of norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA) reuptake transporters. However, it is not clear how this action affects neural circuits performing cognitive and sensorimotor functions driving performance enhancement. The dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) is the primary thalamic relay for visual information from the retina to the cortex and is densely innervated by NE-containing fibers from the locus coeruleus (LC), a pathway known to modulate state-dependent sensory processing. Here, MPH was evaluated for its potential to alter stimulus-driven sensory responses and behavioral outcomes during performance of a visual signal detection task. MPH enhanced activity within individual neurons, ensembles of neurons, and visually-evoked potentials (VEPs) in response to task light cues, while increasing coherence within theta and beta oscillatory frequency bands. MPH also improved reaction times to make correct responses, indicating more efficient behavioral performance. Improvements in reaction speed were highly correlated with faster VEP latencies. Finally, immunostaining revealed that catecholamine innervation of the dLGN is solely noradrenergic. This work suggests that MPH, acting via noradrenergic mechanisms, can substantially affect early-stage sensory signal processing and subsequent behavioral outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1326-1337
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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