Importance: Cocaine addiction is associated with altered resting-state functional connectivity among regions of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine pathways. Methylphenidate hydrochloride, an indirect dopamine agonist, normalizes task-related regional brain activity and associated behavior in cocaine users; however, the neural systems–level effects of methylphenidate in this population have not yet been described.
Objective: To use resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine changes in mesocorticolimbic connectivity with methylphenidate and how connectivity of affected pathways relates to severity of cocaine addiction.
Design: Randomized, placebo-controlled, before-after, crossover study.
Setting: Clinical research center.
Participants: Eighteen nonabstaining individuals with cocaine use disorders.
Interventions: Single doses of oral methylphenidate (20 mg) or placebo were administered at each of 2 study sessions. At each session, resting scans were acquired twice: immediately after drug administration (before the onset of effects [baseline]) and 120 minutes later (within the window of peak effects).
Main Outcomes and Measures: Functional connectivity strength was evaluated using a seed voxel correlation approach. Changes in this measure were examined to characterize the neural systems–level effects of methylphenidate; severity of cocaine addiction was assessed by interview and questionnaire.
Results: Short-term methylphenidate administration reduced an abnormally strong connectivity of the ventral striatum with the dorsal striatum (putamen/globus pallidus), and lower connectivity between these regions during placebo administration uniquely correlated with less severe addiction. In contrast, methylphenidate strengthened several corticolimbic and corticocortical connections.
Conclusions and Relevance: These findings help elucidate the neural systems–level effects of methylphenidate and suggest that short-term methylphenidate can, at least transiently, remodel abnormal circuitry relevant to the pathophysiologic characteristics of cocaine addiction. In particular, the effects of methylphenidate within striatal and cortical pathways constitute a potentially viable mechanism by which methylphenidate could facilitate control of behavior in cocaine addiction.