[Neurobiology of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder].Med Sci (Paris). 2010 May; 26(5):487-96.MS
Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a frequent and disabling condition in school children, with cognitive and behavioral symptoms persisting into adulthood in a majority of patients. Etiology of ADHD is considered multifactorial and heterogenous, with an important contribution of genetic factors. Apart from genetic risk factors, emphasis has been put on the early environment, and prenatal exposure to nicotine, alcohol, prematurity and low birth weight have been associated with subsequent ADHD symptoms. This article reviews recent findings in neurobiology, genetics and neuroimaging of ADHD. Despite their clinical heterogeneity and frequent comorbidities, key symptoms of ADHD, such as impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention are regularly improved by dopaminergic agonists, leading to consider dopaminergic dysfunction a possibly contributing factor in ADHD. Norepinephrine agonists also have clinical efficacy on ADHD symptoms and several other neurotransmission systems are likely involved in the etiology of ADHD. Dysfunction of neurotransmitter systems have been related to impairments of sustained attention, inhibitory control and working memory. Cognitive tasks focusing on reaction time and verbal working memory fit certain criteria for ADHD endophenotypes, offering a pathway to bridge the gap between observed traits and genetic vulnerability. Despite ADHD being a highly heritable disorder, most candidate genes with replicated findings across association studies only account for a small proportion of genetic variance. Neuroimaging studies using treatment effect or cognitive tasks show differential activation patterns in ADHD patients, with trends towards normalization under treatment. Further insight into neurobiological mechanisms involved in ADHD will arise from collaborative networks and combination of imaging, genetic and neurobiological techniques with consideration of the developmental aspects of ADHD.