ADHD Drug Research Breakthrough

New animal research shows that the drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder do not appear to have long-term effects on the brain, a team of Wake Forest Baptist researchers showed. Parents and others have long expressed fears about the long-term effects of drugs such as Ritalin because of their increasing prevalence.

The research study involved 16 juvenile, non-human primates—eight in a control group with no drug treatment and eight given a form of the drug Ritalin that would mimic the equivalent of four years’ worth of the drug in human children.

Imaging of the animals’ brains was done to measure brain chemistry and structure before and after the study.

Linda Porrino, PhD, chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and fellow professor Michael A. Nader, PhD, led the study, which found no long-lasting effects from the drugs on the neurochemistry of the brain, nor any changes in the structure of the brain. Likewise, the team found no increase in susceptibility for drug abuse later in adolescence.

Porrino said a sister study at Johns Hopkins with slightly older animals and different drugs had similar findings.

“We feel very confident of the results because we have replicated each other’s studies within the same timeframe and obtained similar results,” Porrino said. “We think that’s pretty powerful and reassuring.”

Animal research has been a longtime strength of the School of Medicine and Medical Center thanks to the Wake Forest Primate Center (WFPC) on the Friedberg campus, home to the faculty of the Section on Comparative Medicine since the mid-1960s.

The Comparative Medicine faculty have helped pioneer the use of non-human primates in biomedical research and comprise both a local and national research resource. Researchers use non-human primates at WFPC to study six of the 10 major causes of death in the United States.