Methylphenidate ameliorates behavioural and neurobiological deficits in executive function for patients with chronic Traumatic Brain Injury


(1) Background: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) often results in cognitive impairments, including in visuospatial planning and executive function. Methylphenidate (MPh) demonstrates potential improvements in several cognitive domains in patients with TBI. The Tower of London (TOL) is a visuospatial planning task used to assess executive function. (2) Methods: Volunteers with a history of TBI (n = 16) participated in a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, fMRI study to investigate the neurobiological correlates of visuospatial planning and executive function, on and off MPh. (3) Results: Healthy controls (HCs) (n = 18) and patients on placebo (TBI-placebo) differed significantly in reaction time (p < 0.0005) and accuracy (p < 0.0001) when considering all task loads, but especially for high cognitive loads for reaction time (p < 0.001) and accuracy (p < 0.005). Across all task loads, TBI-MPh were more accurate than TBI-placebo (p < 0.05) but remained less accurate than HCs (p < 0.005). TBI-placebo substantially improved in accuracy with MPh administration (TBI-MPh) to a level statistically comparable to HCs at low (p = 0.443) and high (p = 0.175) cognitive loads. Further, individual patients that performed slower on placebo at low cognitive loads were faster with MPh (p < 0.05), while individual patients that performed less accurately on placebo were more accurate with MPh at both high and low cognitive loads (p < 0.005). TBI-placebo showed reduced activity in the bilateral inferior frontal gyri (IFG) and insulae versus HCs. MPh normalised these regional differences. MPh enhanced within-network connectivity (between parietal, striatal, insula, and cerebellar regions) and enhanced beyond-network connectivity (between parietal, thalamic, and cerebellar regions). Finally, individual changes in cerebellar-thalamic (p < 0.005) and cerebellar-parietal (p < 0.05) connectivity with MPh related to individual changes in accuracy with MPh. (4) Conclusions: This work highlights behavioural and neurofunctional differences between HCs and patients with chronic TBI, and that adverse differences may benefit from MPh treatment.