2-Minute Neuroscience: Amphetamine

2-Minute Neuroscience: Amphetamine

Amphetamine is a stimulant drug that is used primarily in the treatment of ADHD. In this video, I discuss some of the proposed mechanisms by which amphetamine acts on the brain to produce its stimulant effects.


Welcome to 2 minute neuroscience, where I explain neuroscience topics in 2 minutes or less. In this installment I will discuss amphetamine.

Amphetamine is a stimulant drug used mainly in the treatment of ADHD. Several popular drugs, like Adderall, primarily contain amphetamine.

Although we don’t have a full understanding of the effects of amphetamine on the brain, there are some aspects of its pharmacology that are well established. Amphetamine binds to the transporter proteins for monoamines like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin and then can be taken up into neurons via these transporter proteins. Once inside the neuron, amphetamine disrupts the storage of monoamines in synaptic vesicles. One way it does this is by inhibiting
a protein called vesicular monoamine transporter 2, or VMAT2, whose normal role is to transport monoamines into vesicles. Inhibition of VMAT2 leads to higher levels of these neurotransmitters in the neuron.

Through a mechanism or mechanisms that are still not fully understood, amphetamine is then able to cause the monoamine transporter proteins to run in reverse, leading to the increased release of monoamines—especially dopamine and norepinephrine—and increased levels of these neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft. These elevated monoamine levels can have various effects on different parts of the central nervous system. Increased dopamine levels in the reward system, for example, may contribute to the reinforcing effects of amphetamine use.

Although the primary action of amphetamine is to cause the increased release of monoamines, there are various other mechanisms that may contribute to the effects of the drug. For example, amphetamine also competes with monoamines for reuptake into the neuron, in effect inhibiting reuptake. And it may inhibit the activity of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that metabolizes monoamines. The effect of both of these actions is to additionally increase levels of monoamines in the neuron and the synaptic cleft.


David J Heal, Sharon L Smith, Jane Gosden, and David J Nutt. Amphetamine, past and present – a pharmacological and clinical perspective. J Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jun; 27(6): 479–496. doi: 10.1177/0269881113482532

Photo credit for image of Adderall: Benjamin Vincent Kasapoglu

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