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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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