Problems with sustained attention are a key clinical feature of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which also manifests in poor performance and abnormal fronto-striato-parietal activation during sustained attention. Methylphenidate and atomoxetine improve attention functions and upregulate abnormal fronto-cortical activation during executive function tasks in ADHD patients. Despite this, no functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study has compared the effects of methylphenidate and atomoxetine on the neurofunctional substrates of sustained attention in ADHD. This randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study investigated the comparative normalisation effects of methylphenidate and atomoxetine on fMRI correlates and performance in 14 ADHD adolescents relative to 27 age-matched healthy controls during a parametric sustained attention/vigilance task with progressively increasing load of sustained attention. ADHD patients were scanned three times under a single clinical dose of either methylphenidate, atomoxetine, or placebo in pseudo-randomised order. Healthy controls were scanned once and compared to patients under each drug condition to test for potential drug-normalisation effects. Relative to controls, ADHD boys under placebo were impaired in performance and had underactivation in predominantly right-hemispheric fronto-parietal, and striato-thalamic regions. Both drugs normalised all underactivations, while only methylphenidate improved performance deficits. Within patients, methylphenidate had a drug-specific effect of upregulating left ventrolateral prefrontal/superior temporal activation relative to placebo and atomoxetine, while both drugs increased activation of right middle/superior temporal cortex, posterior cingulate, and precuneus relative to placebo. The study shows shared normalisation effects of methylphenidate and atomoxetine on fronto-striato-thalamo-parietal dysfunction in ADHD during sustained attention but a drug-specific upregulation effects of methylphenidate on ventral fronto-temporal regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1102-1116
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number10
Early online date26 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Atomoxetine
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Methylphenidate
  • Sustained attention
  • Vigilance


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