The persistence of cognitive deficits in remitted and unremitted ADHD: a case for the state-independence of response inhibition

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014 Mar;55(3):292-300. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12160. Epub 2013 Nov 22.


Background: Response inhibition, working memory, and response variability are possible endophenotypes of ADHD based on their association with the disorder and evidence of heritability. One of the critical although rarely studied criteria for a valid endophenotype is that it persists despite waxing and waning of the overt manifestations of the disorder, a criterion known as state-independence. This study examined whether these aspects of cognition exhibit state-independence in ADHD.

Methods: One hundred and seventy-nine children diagnosed with ADHD in a rigorous baseline assessment were contacted for follow-up assessment in adolescence. Of this sample, 130 (73%) were reascertained. At follow-up, children previously diagnosed with ADHD were identified as remittent (n = 24), persistent (n = 64), or in partial remission (n = 42) based on symptoms and impairment of the disorder. Response inhibition, working memory, and response variability were assessed both in childhood (baseline) and adolescence (follow-up) and were compared with age-matched controls (40 children and 28 adolescents) seen at either time point.

Results: Relative to controls, ADHD children showed baseline deficits in response inhibition, working memory, and response variability. Only the group difference in response inhibition remained significant in adolescence. In general, cognitive performance among ADHD participants improved with age and did so regardless of changes in ADHD symptoms and impairment. Within the ADHD group, however, cognitive performance in childhood and in adolescence did not differ amongst those with persistent, remittent, and partially remittent forms of the disorder.

Conclusions: Results demonstrate that response inhibition not only distinguishes ADHD children from their unaffected peers but is also state-independent, such that deficits remain present irrespective of changes in the disease phenotype. In other words, inhibitory deficits measured in childhood persist into adolescence even when the ADHD phenotype remits. These findings provide further evidence that the ability to stop prepotent actions is an endophenotype of ADHD.

Keywords: ADHD; endophenotype; inhibition; response variability; working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / classification
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Disease Progression
  • Endophenotypes
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Remission, Spontaneous