Background: Inhibitory and attention deficits have been suggested to be shared problems of disruptive behaviour disorders. Patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and patients with conduct disorder (CD) show deficits in tasks of attention allocation and interference inhibition. However, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of inhibitory and attention control has only been investigated in patients with ADHD, including comorbidity with CD, finding fronto-striatal and temporo-parietal dysfunction. This study investigates differences and commonalities in functional neural networks mediating interference inhibition and attention allocation between medication-naïve children and adolescents with pure CD and those with pure ADHD.
Methods: Event-related fMRI was used to compare brain activation of 13 boys with non-comorbid CD, 20 boys with non-comorbid ADHD and 20 healthy comparison boys during a Simon task that measures interference inhibition and controls for attention allocation, thus tapping into interference inhibition and selective attention networks.
Results: During interference inhibition, both patient groups shared reduced activation compared to controls in right superior temporal lobe and in predominantly right precuneus. During the oddball condition, both patient groups showed reduced activation compared to healthy control children in right medial prefrontal lobe. However, only ADHD patients showed a disorder-specific under-activation compared to the other two groups in an extensive activation cluster in left inferior prefrontal cortex.
Conclusions: This study shows shared dysfunction in both patients groups in right hemispheric temporal and parietal brain regions during interference inhibition and in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during attention allocation. Ventrolateral prefrontal dysfunction, however, was specific to ADHD and not observed in patients with CD in the context of attention allocation. The findings suggest that the typically reduced functional activation in patients with ADHD in ventrolateral prefrontal cortex may be specific to the disorder, at least when compared to patients with CD.