There is growing use of psychostimulant cognitive enhancers such as methylphenidate (Ritalin). Methylphenidate differs from the psychostimulant cocaine because it does not enhance brain levels of serotonin. We investigated whether exposure to methylphenidate combined with a serotonin-enhancing medication, the prototypical selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) fluoxetine (Prozac), would produce more “cocaine-like” molecular and behavioral changes.
We measured the effects of fluoxetine on gene expression induced by the cognitive enhancer methylphenidate in the striatum and nucleus accumbens of rats, by in situ hybridization histochemistry. We also determined whether fluoxetine modified behavioral effects of methylphenidate.
Fluoxetine robustly potentiated methylphenidate-induced expression of the transcription factors c-fos and zif 268 throughout the striatum and to some degree in the nucleus accumbens. Fluoxetine also enhanced methylphenidate-induced stereotypical behavior.
Both potentiated gene regulation in the striatum and the behavioral effects indicate that combining the SSRI fluoxetine with the cognitive enhancer methylphenidate mimics cocaine effects, consistent with an increased risk for substance use disorder.
Keywords: psychostimulant, SSRI antidepressant, cocaine, cognitive enhancer, gene expression