Comparable changes in synaptic dopamine induced by methylphenidate and by cocaine in the baboon brain

N. D. Volkow, J. S. Fowler, S. J. Gatley, S. L. Dewey, G. J. Wang, J. Logan, Y. S. Ding, D. Franceschi, A. Gifford, A. Morgan, N. Pappas, Payton King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Though the blockade of dopamine transporters (DAT) is associated with cocaine's and methylphenidate's reinforcing effects, it is the stimulation of dopamine (DA) receptors, achieved by increases in synaptic DA, that enables these effects to occur. Positron emission tomography (PET) and [11C]raclopride were used to assess the levels of occupancy of DA D2 receptors by dopamine achieved by doses of cocaine or methylphenidate previously documented to block over 70% of DAT. Studies were performed in five baboons using a paired scan protocol designed to measure DA D2 receptor availability (Bmax/Kd) at baseline conditions and after intravenous administration of either cocaine or methylphenidate. Cocaine (1-2 mg/kg) or methylphenidate (0.5 mg/kg) administered 5 min prior to [11C]raclopride decreased Bmax/Kd by 29 ± 3% and 32 ± 4%, respectively. Smaller reductions in Bmax/Kd (13% for cocaine given 30 min before [11C]raclopride and 25 ± 10% for methylphenidate given 40 min before [11C]raclopride) were seen with longer periods between drug and radioligand. These observations are consistent with the slower striatal clearance kinetics of [11C]methylphenidate than [11C]cocaine observed in previous PET experiments and with the approximately twofold higher potency of methylphenidate than cocaine in in vitro experiments. Though the elevation of synaptic DA induced by >70% occupancy of DAT by these drugs lead to a modest increase in occupancy of D2 receptors (25-30%), further studies are required to assess if this is an underestimation because of differences in D2 receptor binding kinetics between raclopride and DA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-66
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine D2 receptors
  • Dopamine transporters
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Reinforcement
  • [C]raclopride


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