What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – or ADHD – is the term given to a common behavioural condition that is defined by problems with attention, hyperactivity or impulsiveness that are extreme for a given age. The illness is most common in children, however up to 50 per cent of people affected will continue to have symptoms throughout their lives.

At this stage, researchers do not have a clear understanding of what causes children to develop ADHD. It is thought the brain region known as the prefrontal cortex and its connecting areas might be particularly important in allowing humans to control behaviour and attend with constancy – these brain areas may be inefficient in children with ADHD. Further, investigations into whether ADHD runs in families are also underway with recent research suggesting a strong genetic basis for ADHD.

QBI research

Researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) are working in close collaboration with investigators at the Mater Children’s Hospital Brisbane and the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne to improve our knowledge of the genetic basis of ADHD.

QBI researchers are conducting a large study of over 600 families to identify genes which might confer risk to ADHD.

Further, in 2010, cognitive and behavioural neuroscientist Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen discovered a way to measure the attention span of a fruit fly, which could lead to further advances in the understanding of ADHD and autism in humans.

Associate Professor van Swinderen fed the fruit flies methylphenidate, which is sold under the brand name Ritalin and used to treat children with ADHD. He found the drug had similar effects on fruit flies as it did on people – that is, it helped the distractible flies pay attention to visual stimuli.

“It suggests there may be similar pathways in the brains of fruit flies and humans, which means we now have a simple reductionist model, with all the genetic tools that go along with it,” Associate Professor van Swinderen explained.