UC Study Looks at ADHD Treatment in Teens at Risk for Bipolar Disorder
CINCINNATI—A study at the University of Cincinnati (UC)
will look at brain changes in adolescents with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, before and after treatment
Researchers at UC will use neuroimaging (magnetic resonance
imaging or MRI) to examine the effects of standard treatment for
ADHD (a psychostimulant medication, like Adderall) on brain
structure and function in adolescents with a first-degree relative
with bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of ADHD can include hyperactivity, fidgeting, trouble
focusing or the need to get up frequently—behaviors like
these that may have a negative impact at home, school or in social
"Deficits in attention during childhood and early adolescence
frequently precede the emergence of bipolar disorder in youth who
have a family member with bipolar disorder,” says a lead
researcher of the study Robert McNamara, PhD, professor in the
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and director
of the Lipidomics Research Program. McNamara is a co-principal
investigator for the study along with Melissa DelBello, MD, Dr.
Stanley and Mickey Kaplan Professor and Chair of the Department of
Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the UC College of
Medicine and co-director of the Mood Disorders Center.
"Because youth at risk for bipolar disorder often initially
present with ADHD, they are commonly prescribed a psychostimulant
medication, and it is presently unknown whether this increases risk
for precipitating the onset of bipolar disorder. By studying early
brain changes in response to psychostimulant treatment, we will
develop a better understanding of how this standard ADHD treatment
may affect high-risk youth differently,” says McNamara.
This type of research study can help inform treating
physicians, explains McNamara; whether an ADHD patient is at risk
for developing bipolar disorder may warrant closer monitoring
following a prescription of a psychostimulant, or a different
treatment strategy altogether.
Another goal of the study is to investigate whether omega-3
fatty acid deficiencies exhibited by youth at high-risk for bipolar
disorder influence brain changes in response to psychostimulant
"Omega-3 fatty acids, present primarily in fish, have been
found to play a crucial role in brain development,” says
McNamara. "Previous research has shown that adolescents at a high
risk for bipolar disorder exhibit low levels of omega-3 fatty
acids, and that low omega-3 levels can lead to a different
behavioral response to psychostimulants.”
The study is funded by a five-year, $3.23 million grant from
the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [1R01MH097818].
McNamara and DelBello will collaborate with Jeff Epstein, PhD, a
professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UC College of
Medicine and director of the Center for ADHD at Cincinnati
Children’s Hospital Medical Center, as well as other
sub-investigators from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral
Neuroscience to recruit adolescents with ADHD as well as healthy
Those enrolled in the study will receive two MRI scans and
evaluations every two weeks over the course of the 12-week
For information about participating in the study, please
contact Laura McLaughlin at
or call 513-558-6205.
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