High midbrain [18F]DOPA accumulation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Monique Ernst, Alan J. Zametkin, John A. Matochik, Daisy Pascualvaca, Peter H. Jons, Robert M. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

209 Scopus citations


Objective: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a highly prevalent childhood psychiatric disorder characterized by impaired attention, excessive motor activity, and impulsivity. Despite extensive investigation of the neuropathophysiology of ADHD by a wide array of methodologies, the neurobiochemical substrate of this disorder is still unknown. Converging evidence, however, suggests a primary role of the dopaminergic system. Method: This study examined the integrity of presynaptic dopaminergic function in children with ADHD through use of positron emission tomography and the tracer [18F]fluorodopa ([18F]DOPA). Accumulation of [18F]DOPA in synaptic terminals, a measure of dopa decarboxylase activity, was quantified in regions rich in dopaminergic innervation, including caudate nucleus, putamen, frontal cortex, and midbrain (i.e., substantia nigra and ventral tegmentum). Results: Accumulation of [18F]DOPA in the right midbrain was higher by 48% in 10 children with ADHD than in 10 normal children. Despite its magnitude, this difference would not have reached statistical significance if corrected by the Bonferroni test for multiple comparisons. However, [18F]DOPA in the right midbrain was correlated with symptom severity. No other dopamine-rich regions significantly differed between groups. Conclusions: These findings are suggestive of dopaminergic dysfunction at the level of the dopaminergic nuclei in children with ADHD. Abnormality in dopa decarboxylase activity may be primary or secondary to deficits in other functional units of the dopamine pathway (e.g., receptor, uptake transporter, vesicular transporter, degradation enzymes). Efforts toward defining the origin of this abnormality should help delineate mechanisms of midbrain control of attention and motor behavior important for the understanding of the causes and treatment of ADHD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1209-1215
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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