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, 21 (3), 223-9

A Review of Executive Function Deficits and Pharmacological Management in Children and Adolescents

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A Review of Executive Function Deficits and Pharmacological Management in Children and Adolescents

Sheik Hosenbocus et al. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry.

Abstract

Objective: To review both the functions and dysfunction of the executive system (ES) focusing on the extent of executive function (EF) deficits in most psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents and the possibility of such deficits acting as markers for pharmacological management.

Method: A LITERATURE REVIEW WAS CONDUCTED USING MEDLINE, PSYCHINFO, CINAHL, PSYCHARTICLES AND PUBMED WITH THE FOLLOWING KEYWORDS: executive function or dysfunction, pediatric or children or adolescents, psychopharmacology, psychotropic medications, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Due to the limited amount of specific information obtained for some childhood disorders, the search was broadened to include relevant adult literature where information was extrapolated.

Results: Abundant literature was found on the nature of the ES and the executive dysfunctions in most psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents, but not so much on the use of medication. EF deficits were found to be more consistent in disorders such as ADHD, ASD and FASD than in the other disorders but were not specific enough for use as clinical markers for those disorders. For children with ADHD and ASD there was adequate information on the use of psychotropic medications and impact on some EF domains but information on the impact of medication on EF in the other disorders in children and adolescents was fairly limited. Medications acting on the dopaminergic system also showed positive effects on EF deficits and are commonly used in the treatment of EF disorders such as ADHD, ASD and FASD.

Conclusion: Existing literature indicates that EF deficits underlie most psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents. However, there are so many executive functions linked to so many activities and circuits in the brain that it is hard to quantify them in a particular disorder for use as specific markers for that disorder. The ES uses dopamine as its main neurotransmitter and this has implications for clinical management. Dopamine agonists (e.g. stimulants) and antagonists (e.g. neuroleptics) are medications that have direct impact on the ES and are commonly used to treat EF disorders in children and adolescents while serotonergic medications e.g. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have not been very successful in treating such disorders. Identifying EF deficits early could be useful in guiding management including the use of medication in those disorders.

Keywords: adolescents; children; deficits; executive; function; pharmacology.

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