Professor Chao Deng and Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang

IHMRI researchers have found further evidence that anti-psychotic drug use in children with behavioural problems could have an impact on them later in life

Neuroscientist Professor Chao Deng and colleagues have has recently published additional results from the first comprehensive study of anti-psychotic medications in juveniles.

The study looked at three commonly prescribed drugs called Risperidone, Olanzapine and Aripiprazole.

Among these drugs, Risperidone is most commonly prescribed for children with emotional and behavioural disorders like Autism and ADHD.

Researchers found using the drugs during the childhood-adolescent period could cause permanent changes to neurotransmitter systems in the brain, namely dopamine and serotonin.

They believe that using drugs to block receptors influences brain development, resulting in changes in mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and hyperactivity later in life.

“This is the opposite effect of what the drugs were created for,” said Dr Michael De Santis.

The results from rodent trials suggest that early treatment in juvenile rats may cause gender and brain regional specific changes in receptors in the brain.

Male rats were more likely to be impacted by the brain changes than females.

“The study was carried our in normal rodents which may not completely represent diseased status in patients,” said Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang.

The study found that as well as long-term changing neurotransmitters in an adolescent brain the anti-psychotic drugs also contributed to weight gain.

“The next stage of research will include research into the impact of early interventions including drug treatments or exercise to reduce the long term risks of using anti-psychotic medication,” said Professor Deng.

“This study is really important because this kind of information can be used by government agencies to develop new guidelines for use in children,” he added.

The researchers hope the results will help GPs and parents better weigh up the risks and benefits of the medications before using them.

This research is part of a larger NHMRC project at UOW, initiated and led by Professor Deng, to investigate the long-term effects of early antipsychotic exposure in children and adolescents on brain function, adult behaviours and metabolisms.


Please note, this research examined the impact of medications in rats in ethically-approved laboratory settings. Further research is required to assess the long-term impact in humans. Parents should always consult their medical practitioners about any issues with their children’s current medication.

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The Illawarra Mercury

5 July 2018: IHMRI research looks at long-term effects of anti-psychotic drugs for kids

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Top photo: IHMRI researchers Professor Chao Deng and Distinguished Professor Xu-Feng Huang from UOW’s Centre for Translational Neuroscience.
Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

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