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Psychiatry Res. 2000 Mar 6;93(2):165-78.

Differential measures of 'sustained attention' in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity or tic disorders: relations to monoamine metabolism.

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  • 1University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Virchowstr. 174, 45147, Essen, Germany.


Controversy exists on whether the constructs tested by paper/pencil and computerized continuous-performance tests (CPT) are similar, and the deficits recorded in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms (ADHD) are comparable. Signal-detection measures were recorded on four such tests of 'sustained attention', with increasing working-memory requirements in healthy children (14; mean 10 years), and those with ADHD (14; mean 10 years) or a tic syndrome (TS, 11; mean 11 years). Clinical associations were sought from 24-h urinary measures of monoamine activity. The cancellation paper/pencil test revealed no group differences for errors or signal detection measures. On the CPT, ADHD children made more omission and commission errors than control subjects, but TS children made mostly omissions. This reflected the poor perceptual sensitivity (d-prime, d') for ADHD and conservative response criteria (beta) for TS children. This group difference extended to the CPTax, which was shown on a regression analysis to test for putative working-memory-related abilities as well as concentration. In all children, immediate response-feedback reduced omissions, and modestly improved d'. CPTax performance related negatively to dopamine metabolism in control subjects and to serotonin metabolism in the ADHD group. But comparisons between the metabolites in the ADHD group suggest that increased serotonin and decreased noradrenaline, with respect to dopamine metabolism, may detract from CPT performance in terms of d'. CPT tasks demonstrated a perceptual-based impairment in ADHD and response conservatism in TS patients independent of difficulty. Catecholamine activity was implicated in the promotion of perceptual processing in normal and ADHD children, but serotonin activity may contribute to poor CPTax (working-memory) performance in ADHD patients.

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