Ritalin boosts learning speed

The widely-prescribed ADHD drug Ritalin is given to children to help them focus, but new research shows that the drug's benefit may go beyond a simple boost in concentration. According to a paper published online in Nature Neuroscience, in an animal trial, Ritalin actually helped rats learn faster and increased brain plasticity.

Ritalin is known to increase the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Researchers found that Ritalin didn't just affect the dopamine receptor linked to concentration; it also affected the receptor that improves learning. "We found that a dopamine receptor, known as the D2 receptor, controls the ability to stay focused on a task--the well-known benefit of Ritalin," says Patricia Janak, PhD. "But we also discovered that another dopamine receptor, D1, underlies learning efficiency." Additionally, the scientists found the drug enhances brain plasticity--strengthening communication between neurons where they meet at the synapse.

"Since we now know that Ritalin improves behavior through two specific types of neurotransmitter receptors, the finding could help in the development of better targeted drugs, with fewer side effects, to increase focus and learning," says Antonello Bonci, MD, principal investigator.

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