Dopamine (DA) plays an important role in integrative functions contributing to adaptive behaviors. In support of this essential function, DA modulates synaptic plasticity in different brain areas, including the striatum. Many drugs used for cognitive enhancement are psychostimulants, such as methylphenidate (MPH), which enhance DA levels. MPH treatment is of interest during adolescence, a period of enhanced neurodevelopment during which the DA system is in a state of flux. Recent epidemiological studies report the co-abuse of MPH and ethanol in adolescents and young adults. Although repeated MPH treatment produces enduring changes that affect subsequent behavioral responses to other psychostimulants, few studies have investigated the interactions between MPH and ethanol. Here we addressed whether chronic therapeutic exposure to MPH during adolescence predisposed mice to an altered response to ethanol and whether this was accompanied by altered DA release and striatal plasticity. C57BL/6J mice were administered MPH (3-6 mg/kg/day) via the drinking water between post-natal days 30 and 60. Voltammetry experiments showed that sufficient brain MPH concentrations were achieved during adolescence in mice to increase the DA clearance in adulthood. The treatment also increased long-term depression and reduced the effects of ethanol on striatal synaptic responses. Although the injection of 0.4 or 2 g/kg ethanol dose-dependently decreased locomotion in control mice, only the higher dose decreased locomotion in MPH-treated mice. These results suggested that the administration of MPH during development promoted long-term effects on synaptic plasticity in forebrain regions targeted by DA. These changes in plasticity might, in turn, underlie alterations in behaviors controlled by these brain regions into adulthood.
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