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19-09-2012 | Mental health | Article

Executive attention deficits in youth at risk for mood disorders


Free abstract

medwireNews: Young people with a parental history of bipolar disorder (BD) or major depressive disorder (MDD) have slower reaction times on tests of executive attention than those with mentally healthy parents, US researchers report.

There were no significant differences between the groups regarding other aspects of attention, note Cecile Ladouceur (University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania) and team.

"A large body of literature has linked executive attention to emotion regulation, which in turn is thought to play a role in mood disturbance," explain the researchers in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The current findings "extend previous results indicating that altered executive attention may represent an endophenotype for mood disorders in at-risk youth," they add.

The team studied 29 young people, aged 8-17 years, who were deemed to be at increased risk for mood disorders due to a parental history of BD (n=18) or MDD (n=11) and 27 young people (controls) without a parental history of psychiatric illness.

All of the participants completed the Attention Network Test-Short version (ANT-S), which assesses the executive, alerting, and orienting attention networks by recording reaction times to specific cues.

The researchers found that there were no significant differences between at-risk individuals and controls regarding overall reaction time on the three tests, or for reaction times on the alerting and orienting tests individually.

However, participants at risk for mood disorders had significantly longer reaction times than controls on the test for executive attention, at 115.68 versus 93.85 ms.

There were no significant differences in reaction times regarding any ANT-S measure between youth with a parental history of BD and those with a parental history of MDD, the authors note.

Ladouceur and team conclude: "Our results demonstrated that relative to healthy controls, unaffected youth at familial risk for mood disorders exhibited poor executive attention, but normal alerting and orienting."

They add: "Longitudinal studies with larger samples of offspring at familial risk for BD and MDD are needed to investigate the role of executive attention in the future onset of mood disorders."

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Mark Cowen, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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