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Patients with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) exhibit difficulties in multiple attentional functions. Although high heritability rates suggest a strong genetic impact, aetiological pathways from genes and environmental factors to the ADHD phenotype are not well understood. Tracking the time course of deviant task processing using event-related electrophysiological brain activity should characterize the impact of familiality on the sequence of cognitive functions from preparation to response control in ADHD.
Preparation and response control were assessed using behavioural and electrophysiological parameters of two versions of a cued continuous performance test with varying attentional load in boys with ADHD combined type (n = 97), their non-affected siblings (n = 27) and control children without a family history of ADHD (n = 43).
Children with ADHD and non-affected siblings showed more variable performance and made more omission errors than controls. The preparatory Cue-P3 and contingent negative variation (CNV) following cues were reduced in both ADHD children and their non-affected siblings compared with controls. The NoGo-P3 was diminished in ADHD compared with controls whilst non-affected siblings were located intermediate but did not differ from both other groups. No clear familiality effects were found for the Go-P3. Better task performance was further associated with higher CNV and P3 amplitudes.
Impairments in performance and electrophysiological parameters reflecting preparatory processes and to some extend also for inhibitory response control, especially under high attentional load, appeared to be familially driven in ADHD and may thus constitute functionally relevant endophenotypes for the disorder.
Twin and sibling studies have identified specific cognitive phenotypes that may mediate the association between genes and the clinical symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is also associated with lower IQ scores. We aimed to investigate whether the familial association between measures of cognitive performance and the clinical diagnosis of ADHD is mediated through shared familial influences with IQ.
Multivariate familial models were run on data from 1265 individuals aged 6–18 years, comprising 920 participants from ADHD sibling pairs and 345 control participants. Cognitive assessments included a four-choice reaction time (RT) task, a go/no-go task, a choice–delay task and an IQ assessment. The analyses focused on the cognitive variables of mean RT (MRT), RT variability (RTV), commission errors (CE), omission errors (OE) and choice impulsivity (CI).
Significant familial association (rF) was confirmed between cognitive performance and both ADHD (rF=0.41–0.71) and IQ (rF=−0.25 to −0.49). The association between ADHD and cognitive performance was largely independent (80–87%) of any contribution from etiological factors shared with IQ. The exception was for CI, where 49% of the overlap could be accounted for by the familial variance underlying IQ.
The aetiological factors underlying lower IQ in ADHD seem to be distinct from those between ADHD and RT/error measures. This suggests that lower IQ does not account for the key cognitive impairments observed in ADHD. The results have implications for molecular genetic studies designed to identify genes involved in ADHD.
Detecting genetic factors involved in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is complicated because of their small effect sizes and complex interactions. The endophenotype approach eases this by coming closer to the relevant genes. Different aspects of temporal information processing are known to be affected in ADHD. Thus, some of these aspects could represent candidate endophenotypes for ADHD.
Fifty-four sib-pairs with at least one child with ADHD and 40 control children aged 6–18 years were recruited and asked to perform two duration discrimination tasks, one with a base duration of 50 ms on automatic timing and one with a base duration of 1000 ms on cognitively controlled timing.
Whereas children with ADHD, but not their unaffected siblings, were impaired in discrimination of longer intervals, both groups were impaired in discriminating brief intervals. Furthermore, a significant within-family correlation was found for discrimination of brief intervals. Task performances of subjects of the control group correlated with individual levels of hyperactivity/impulsivity for discrimination of brief intervals, but not of longer intervals.
Cognitively controlled and also automatic processes of temporal information processing are impaired in children with ADHD. Discrimination of longer intervals appears as a typical ‘disease marker’ whereas discrimination of brief intervals shows up as a ‘vulnerability marker’. Discrimination of brief intervals was found to be familial and linked to levels of hyperactivity/impulsivity. Taken together, discrimination of brief intervals represents a candidate endophenotype of ADHD.
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