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Duke Researchers Studying Whether ADHD Is Inherited

Posted December 2, 2005 8:21 a.m. EST

— Duke researchers believe attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is an inherited condition and hope a study will help them find the genes involved and that could lead to better ways to manage the disorder.

Nine-year-old John Cotton excels in math at school, but that talent was not discovered until after he received medication to treat ADHD. Duke psychologist Dr. Michael Cuccaro uses different tests to diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"We're not talking about a disorder of ability. We're talking about, really, a disorder of availability," he said.

ADHD is diagnosed based on behavior and the problems that behavior causes in school and at home. It is not just a problem for John, but also for his three sisters. Their parents, John and Marilyn Cotton, remember having the same problem when they were young.

The Cottons are participating in a Duke study to pin down the genetic markers of ADHD. Participants go through a battery of diagnostic tests and give a blood DNA sample.

Duke geneticist Dr. Alison Koch said the evidence is strong that ADHD is an inherited disorder.

"I think, ultimately, if we can identify the genes that are involved, it should help us to develop better treatments for individuals that have ADHD," she said.

Koch said it could help doctors better match patients with the right medications. It could also help diagnose children sooner, before ADHD becomes a problem.

"We figure if we can do studies like this one to get more information out there, it might help the kids more in schools," said John Cotton.

There is a lot of controversy about whether children diagnosed with ADHD really need medication. The genetic research could also identify those children who do not have the genetic markers for ADHD and may not need medication.