Bad conduct may have genetic cause

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The Independent Online
People who cannot concentrate, are prone to fidget and act impulsively may have a genuine excuse for their wayward behaviour. Scientists have detected an abnormality in the brains of patients said to be suffering from attention deficit disorder.

The discovery lends credibility to a diagnosis that has swept the United States, sparking controversy among doctors and patients on both sides of the Atlantic. Sceptics have argued that attention deficit disorder is not a real illness and that a medical label has been applied to behaviour previously seen as delinquent, or plain naughty and attributed to bad parenting.

In the US one in 20 children is diagnosed with the disorder, and up to one in ten adults, compared with one in 2,000 children in the United Kingdom. Sufferers are prone to hyperactivity, inattention and to have difficulty controlling their impulses. The condition is said to have taken over from depression as the new focus of middle-class angst and the drug to treat it, the amphetamine-derived stimulant, Ritalin, is reported to be displacing Prozac as the new mood enhancer.

A review of published research on attention deficit disorder in The Lancet says that new brain scanning techniques have shown that sufferers tend to have smaller frontal lobes and smaller structures deep within the brain, providing the first evidence of a biological cause. Genetic studies indicate that there are a number of genes influencing the dopamine system in the brain which affects the control and reward systems. Professor Eric Taylor, an expert on the disorder at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said: "There has been a big dispute between the British and US schools on whether attention deficit disorder is a problem. Our conclusion is that we in Britain have been wrong not to recognise it and the US has been wrong to recognise it so broadly."

-- Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

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