Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 127–136 | Cite as

The Separation of ADHD Inattention and Hyperactivity-Impulsivity Symptoms: Pathways from Genetic Effects to Cognitive Impairments and Symptoms

  • Jonna KuntsiEmail author
  • Rebecca Pinto
  • Thomas S. Price
  • Jaap J. van der Meere
  • Alexis C. Frazier-Wood
  • Philip Asherson


Both shared and unique genetic risk factors underlie the two symptom domains of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. The developmental course and relationship to co-occurring disorders differs across the two symptom domains, highlighting the importance of their partially distinct etiologies. Familial cognitive impairment factors have been identified in ADHD, but whether they show specificity in relation to the two ADHD symptom domains remains poorly understood. We aimed to investigate whether different cognitive impairments are genetically linked to the ADHD symptom domains of inattention versus hyperactivity-impulsivity. We conducted multivariate genetic model fitting analyses on ADHD symptom scores and cognitive data, from go/no-go and fast tasks, collected on a population twin sample of 1,312 children aged 7–10. Reaction time variability (RTV) showed substantial genetic overlap with inattention, as observed in an additive genetic correlation of 0.64, compared to an additive genetic correlation of 0.31 with hyperactivity-impulsivity. Commission errors (CE) showed low additive genetic correlations with both hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattention (genetic correlations of 0.17 and 0.11, respectively). The additive genetic correlation between RTV and CE was also low and non-significant at −0.10, consistent with the etiological separation between the two indices of cognitive impairments. Overall, two key cognitive impairments phenotypically associated with ADHD symptoms, captured by RTV and CE, showed different genetic relationships to the two ADHD symptom domains. The findings extend a previous model of two familial cognitive impairment factors in combined subtype ADHD by separating pathways underlying inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms.


ADHD Genetics Reaction time variability Commission errors Inattention Hyperactivity/impulsivity 



We thank the TEDS-SAIL families, who give their time and support so unstintingly. We also thank research team members Keeley Brookes, Rebecca Gibbs, Hannah Rogers, Eda Salih, Greer Swinard, Kate Lievesley, Kayley O’Flynn, Suzi Marquis, Rebecca Whittemore, Xiaohui Xu, and everyone on the TEDS team.


The Study of Activity and Impulsivity Levels in children (SAIL) was funded by a Wellcome Trust grant GR070345MF.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonna Kuntsi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rebecca Pinto
    • 1
  • Thomas S. Price
    • 1
  • Jaap J. van der Meere
    • 2
  • Alexis C. Frazier-Wood
    • 3
  • Philip Asherson
    • 1
  1. 1.MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Clinical and Developmental NeuropsychologyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental SciencesThe University of Texas School of Public HealthHoustonUSA

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