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Executive functions as endophenotypes in ADHD: evidence from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Battery (CANTAB)

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Little is known about executive functions among unaffected siblings of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and there is lack of such information from non-Western countries. We examined verbal and nonverbal executive functions in adolescents with ADHD, unaffected siblings and controls to test whether executive functions could be potential endophenotypes for ADHD. Methods: 

We assessed 279 adolescents (age range: 11–17 years) with a childhood diagnosis of DSM-IV ADHD, 136 biological siblings (108 unaffected, 79.4%), and 173 unaffected controls by using psychiatric interviews, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – 3rd edition (WISC-III), including digit spans, and the tasks involving executive functions of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB): Intra-dimensional/Extra-dimensional Shifts (IED), Spatial Span (SSP), Spatial Working Memory (SWM), and Stockings of Cambridge (SOC). Results: 

Compared with the controls, adolescents with ADHD and unaffected siblings had a significantly shorter backward digit span, more extra-dimensional shift errors in the IED, shorter spatial span length in the SSP, more total errors and poorer strategy use in the SWM, and fewer problems solved in the minimum number of moves and shorter initial thinking time in the SOC. The magnitudes of the differences in the SWM and SOC increased with increased task difficulties. In general, neither persistent ADHD nor comorbidity was associated with increased deficits in executive functions among adolescents with ADHD. Conclusions: 

The lack of much difference in executive dysfunctions between unaffected siblings and ADHD adolescents suggests that executive dysfunctions may be useful cognitive endophenotypes for ADHD genetic studies.
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Keywords: ADD/ADHD; CANTAB; endophenotype; executive functions; unaffected siblings

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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