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Alpha Event-Related Decreases During Encoding in Adults with ADHD - An Investigation of Sustained Attention and Working Memory Processes.

BACKGROUND: Executive functioning deficits are central to established neuropsychological models of ADHD. Oscillatory activity, particularly the alpha rhythm (8-12Hz) has been associated with cognitive impairments in ADHD. However, most studies to date examined such neural mechanisms underlying executive dysfunction in children and adolescents with ADHD, raising the question of whether and to what extent those ADHD-related working memory impairments are still present in adults. To this end, the current study aimed to investigate the role of alpha event-related decreases (ERD) during working memory processes in adults with and without ADHD.

METHODS: We collected electroencephalographic (EEG) data from 85 adults with a lifetime diagnosis of ADHD and 105 controls (aged 32-64), while they performed a continuous performance (CPT) and a Sternberg working memory task (SDRT). Time-frequency and independent component analysis (ICA) was used to identify alpha (8-12Hz) clusters to examine group and condition effects during the temporal profile of sustained attention and working memory processes (encoding, maintenance, retrieval), loads (low and high) and trial type (go and nogo).

RESULTS: Individuals with ADHD exhibited higher reaction time-variability in SDRT, and slower response times in SDRT and CPT, despite no differences in task accuracy. Although working memory load was associated with stronger alpha ERD in both tasks and both groups (ADHD, controls), we found no evidence for attenuated alpha ERD in adults with ADHD, failing to replicate effects reported in children. In contrast, when looking at the whole sample, the correlations of alpha power during encoding with inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms were significant, replicating prior findings in children with ADHD, but suggesting an alternate source for these effects in adults.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results corroborate the robustness of alpha as a marker of visual attention and suggest that occipital alpha ERD normalizes in adulthood, but with unique contributions of centro-occipital alpha ERD, suggesting a secondary source. This implies that deviations in processes other than previously reported visuospatial cortex engagement account for the persistent symptoms and cognitive deficits in adults with a history of ADHD.

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