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Review
, 16 (5), 422-33

The Neurobiology and Genetics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): What Every Clinician Should Know

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Review

The Neurobiology and Genetics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): What Every Clinician Should Know

Samuele Cortese. Eur J Paediatr Neurol.

Abstract

This review, addressed mainly to clinicians, considers commonly asked questions related to the neuroimaging, neurophysiology, neurochemistry and genetics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It provides answers based on the most recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews, as well as additional relevant original studies. Empirical findings from neurobiological research into ADHD reflect a shift in the conceptualisation of this disorder from simple theoretical views of a few isolated dysfunctions to more complex models integrating the heterogeneity of the clinical manifestations of ADHD. Thus, findings from structural and functional neuroimaging suggest the involvement of developmentally abnormal brain networks related to cognition, attention, emotion and sensorimotor functions. Brain functioning alterations are confirmed by neurophysiological findings, showing that individuals with ADHD have elevated theta/beta power ratios, and less pronounced responses and longer latencies of event-related potentials, compared with controls. At a molecular level, alterations in any single neurotransmitter system are unlikely to explain the complexity of ADHD; rather, the disorder has been linked to dysfunctions in several systems, including the dopaminergic, adrenergic, serotoninergic and cholinergic pathways. Genetic studies showing a heritability of ∼60-75% suggest that a plethora of genes, each one with a small but significant effect, interact with environmental factors to increase the susceptibility to ADHD. Currently, findings from neurobiological research do not have a direct application in daily clinical practice, but it is hoped that in the near future they will complement the diagnostic process and contribute to the long-term effective treatment of this impairing condition.

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