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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often persists into adolescence and adulthood, but the processes underlying persistence and remission remain poorly understood. We previously found that reaction time variability and event-related potentials of preparation-vigilance processes were impaired in ADHD persisters and represented markers of remission, as ADHD remitters were indistinguishable from controls but differed from persisters. Here, we aimed to further clarify the nature of the cognitive-neurophysiological impairments in ADHD and of markers of remission by examining the finer-grained ex-Gaussian reaction-time distribution and electroencephalographic (EEG) brain-oscillatory measures in ADHD persisters, remitters and controls.
A total of 110 adolescents and young adults with childhood ADHD (87 persisters, 23 remitters) and 169 age-matched controls were compared on ex-Gaussian (mu, sigma, tau) indices and time-frequency EEG measures of power and phase consistency from a reaction-time task with slow-unrewarded baseline and fast-incentive conditions (‘Fast task’).
Compared to controls, ADHD persisters showed significantly greater mu, sigma, tau, and lower theta power and phase consistency across conditions. Relative to ADHD persisters, remitters showed significantly lower tau and theta power and phase consistency across conditions, as well as lower mu in the fast-incentive condition, with no difference in the baseline condition. Remitters did not significantly differ from controls on any measure.
We found widespread impairments in ADHD persisters in reaction-time distribution and brain-oscillatory measures. Event-related theta power, theta phase consistency and tau across conditions, as well as mu in the more engaging fast-incentive condition, emerged as novel markers of ADHD remission, potentially representing compensatory mechanisms in individuals with remitted ADHD.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) persists in around two-thirds of individuals in adolescence and early adulthood.
To examine the cognitive and neurophysiological processes underlying the persistence or remission of ADHD.
Follow-up data were obtained from 110 young people with childhood ADHD and 169 controls on cognitive, electroencephalogram frequency, event-related potential (ERP) and actigraph movement measures after 6 years.
ADHD persisters differed from remitters on preparation-vigilance measures (contingent negative variation, delta activity, reaction time variability and omission errors), IQ and actigraph count, but not on executive control measures of inhibition or working memory (nogo-P3 amplitudes, commission errors and digit span backwards).
Preparation-vigilance measures were markers of remission, improving concurrently with ADHD symptoms, whereas executive control measures were not sensitive to ADHD persistence/remission. For IQ, the present and previous results combined suggest a role in moderating ADHD outcome. These findings fit with previously identified aetiological separation of the cognitive impairments in ADHD. The strongest candidates for the development of non-pharmacological interventions involving cognitive training and neurofeedback are the preparation-vigilance processes that were markers of ADHD remission.