Brain Health,
Smart Drugs,

#038: Dr. Kimberly Urban and the Impact of Nootropics on Neuroplasticity

June 02, 2014

In Episode #38, Jesse interviews Dr. Kimberly Urban on the potential impact of nootropic drugs on neuroplasticity. We love our nootropics, but we’re also big fans of retaining the long-term flexibility and adaptability of our brains, so we thought this topic deserved some air-time. Dr. Urban brings to light facts about how some brain stimulants work (specifically Ritalin), how they were originally tested, and why imperfections in the testing methodologies could spell danger to mis-diagnosed or off-label users.

Dr. Urban very recently earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience (May of 2013!) from Drexel University. Her research focused on understanding the potential effects of exposure of a healthy, juvenile brain to clinically-relevant doses of methylphenidate (Ritalin, “MPH”). Much is known about the effectiveness of MPH in treating ADHD symptoms, and it has recently been touted as a cognitive enhancer for healthy individuals. But despite the drug’s prevalence among American children, comparatively little research has focused on understanding how it might affect development of the prefrontal cortex: the executive control center of the brain damaged in ADHD and many other psychological disorders. Dr. Urban found that treating juvenile rats with MPH resulted in depressed neuronal function in prefrontal cortex and markers suggesting an increased synaptic rigidity. During her postdoctoral training, Dr. Urban hopes to further expand upon this topic and relate MPH’s effects on prefrontal function to other psychostimulant drugs, in hopes of better understanding the ramifications of usage by healthy children and indiscriminate prescription.

Dr. Urban’s broader areas of interest center on understanding the effects of drug abuse on learning and memory, the changes to the cellular pathways and neuronal function that underlie addiction, and pathologies of the prefrontal cortex, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, and schizophrenia.

This Week In Neuroscience: Scientists Create a Circuit Board Modeled on the Human Brain

Stanford scientists, funded by the National Institute of Health, have developed a microchip that runs 9,000 times faster than a typical PC and uses much less power – all based on the structure of the human brain.

This circuit board (called a “Neurogrid”) consists of sixteen “Neurocore” microchips that simulate one million neurons and billions of synaptic connections using only the power required to run a tablet computer. Ultimately, Neurogrid is about 100,000 times more energy efficient than a typical PC.

The next step is to lower costs associated with the device (currently about $40,000 per device) and develop “compiler” software to help engineers use the technology without first needing to understand the neuro-circuitry the chip-set was based on. Smaller, faster, more energy-efficient technology! Skynet is coming!

Read the original article here.

What You’ll Learn

  • Interesting facts on how Ritalin was originally tested in lab rats
  • How Ritalin may actually depress the pre-frontal cortex in children
  • Why ADHD is so often misdiagnosed
  • Why Ritalin may be dangerous to the brains of non-ADHD sufferers

Key Terms Mentioned

Show Notes
  • 00:01:38

    Scientists Create a Circuit Board Modeled on the Human Brain.

  • 00:04:18

    Introducing Dr. Kimberley Urban and her paper on Performance Enhancement at the Cost of Potential Brain Plasticity.

  • 00:05:50

    Get the lowdown on Ritalin.

  • 00:07:29

    Dr. Urban describes her investigative research in the difference between adult and juvenile rat brains.

  • 00:09:52

    What is brain plasticity?

  • 00:14:38

    What do we really know about stimulants and ADHD?

  • 00:15:43

    Get the lowdown on Modafinil.

  • 00:16:29

    A new class of smart drugs.

  • 00:17:47

    Get clued in to some cool tidbits about dose response.

  • 00:22:37

    Similarities in neurotransmitters between rats and humans.

  • 00:27:24

    Rat housing problems and issues.

  • 00:30:49

    Spurious correlations.


  1. Daniel Hellsten says:

    It’s amazed me how things are. Thanks for Kimberly for that study.

  2. Daniel Hellsten says:

    It’s amazed me how things are. Thanks for Kimberly for that study.

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