Timing, space and ADHD: the dopamine theory revisited

Authors

  • Florence Levy,

    1. Florence Levy, Associate Professor (Correspondence); James M. Swanson, Professor, Child Development Center, University of California, Irvine, USA
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  • James M. Swanson

    1. Florence Levy, Associate Professor (Correspondence); James M. Swanson, Professor, Child Development Center, University of California, Irvine, USA
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School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Prince of Wales Hospital. Address for correspondence: Avoca Clinic, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, New South Wales 2031, Australia. Email: f.levy@unsw.edu.au

Abstract

Objective: The objective of this study was to review the dopamine theory of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in terms of advances made over the last decade.

Method: ‘Hyper’ and ‘hypo’ dopaminergic theories are discussed, as well as noradrenergic and neuropsychological findings in ADHD. A model incorporating both anterior and posterior attention systems, involved in orienting, inhibition, vigilance and working memory, is described. Neuropsychological studies of covert orienting are reviewed.

Results: The dopamine theory is supported by neuroimaging, genetic and stimulant medication studies, which confirm an inhibitory dopaminergic effect at striatal/prefrontal level. Work in rodents and primates, as well as humans has shown that noradrenergic systems are also important in prefrontal regulation, in particular α2A noradrenergic agonists have a beneficial effect on cognitive tasks. Neuropsychological studies implicate posterior parietal mechanisms in the orienting of attention. Working memory may require integration of spatial and temporal information, involving anterior and posterior systems.

Conclusions: Anterior and posterior attention systems are involved in inhibition, working memory and orientation. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms and subtypes are likely to reflect deficits in both inhibition and working memory, and may be heterogenous. While the dopamine theory is supported by genetic and stimulant medication studies, the work of Arnsten and colleagues suggests a potential role for α2 noradrenergic agonists such as guanfacine.

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