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Epilepsia. 2012 Feb;53(2):325-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2011.03377.x. Epub 2012 Jan 13.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in childhood epilepsy: a neuropsychological and functional imaging study.

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Division of Neuropediatrics and Developmental Medicine, University Children's Hospital Basel, Basel, Switzerland.



Children with epilepsy have a significant risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is often accompanied by deficits in working memory performance. However, it is not yet clear whether there are specific differences in the underlying mechanisms of working memory capability between children with epilepsy-related ADHD and those with developmental ADHD. There is evidence that methylphenidate can improve the behavioral difficulties in children with developmental ADHD. Whether this medication has the same effect on ADHD symptoms in patients with epilepsy is not yet well understood. The aim of the present study is, therefore, to evaluate whether boys with epilepsy-related ADHD and developmental ADHD share a common behavioral, pharmacoresponsive, and neurofunctional pathophysiology.


Seventeen boys with diagnosed combined epilepsy/ADHD, 15 boys with developmental ADHD, and 15 healthy controls (aged 8-14 years) performed on working memory tasks (N-back) while brain activation was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Each patient was tested twice: once after the intake of methylphenidate and once without in a counterbalanced order.


On a behavioral level, we show that boys with epilepsy-related ADHD as well as those with developmental ADHD performed similarly poorly on tasks with high cognitive load when compared to healthy controls, and that intake of methylphenidate improved performance almost to normal levels in both ADHD groups. On the functional level, both patient groups showed similar reductions of activation in all relevant parts of the functional network of working memory when compared to controls. Of interest, intake of methylphenidate did not significantly alter this activity pattern.


Our data show strong similarities between epilepsy-related and developmental ADHD on the behavioral, pharmacoresponsive, and neural level, favoring the view that ADHD with and without epilepsy shares a common underlying neurobehavioral pathophysiology.

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