Background: In contrast to studies of depression and psychosis, the first part of this study showed no major differences in serum levels of cytokines and tryptophan metabolites between healthy children and those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder of the combined type (ADHD). Yet, small decreases of potentially toxic kynurenine metabolites and increases of cytokines were evident in subgroups. Therefore we examined predictions of biochemical associations with the major symptom clusters, measures of attention and response variability.

Methods: We explored systematically associations of 8 cytokines (indicators of pro/anti-inflammatory function) and 5 tryptophan metabolites with symptom ratings (e.g. anxiety, opposition, inattention) and continuous performance test (CPT) measures (e.g. movement, response time (RT), variability) in 35 ADHD (14 on medication) and 21 control children. Predictions from linear regressions (controlled by the false discovery rate) confirmed or disconfirmed partial correlations accounting for age, body mass and socio-economic status.

Results: (1) Total symptom ratings were associated with increases of the interleukins IL-16 and IL-13, where relations of IL-16 (along with decreased S100B) with hyperactivity, and IL-13 with inattention were notable. Opposition ratings were predicted by increased IL-2 in ADHD and IL-6 in control children. (2) In the CPT, IL-16 related to motor measures and errors of commission, while IL-13 was associated with errors of omission. Increased RT variability related to lower TNF-alpha, but to higher IFN-gamma levels. (3) Tryptophan metabolites were not significantly related to symptoms. But increased tryptophan predicted errors of omission, its breakdown predicted errors of commission and kynurenine levels related to faster RTs.

Conclusions: Many associations were found across diagnostic groups even though they were more marked in one group. This confirms the quantitative trait nature of these features. Conceptually the relationships of the pro- and antiinflammatory cytokines distinguished between behaviours associated more with cognitive or more with motor control respectively. Further study should extend the number of immunological and metabolic markers to confirm or refute the trends reported here and examine their stability from childhood to adolescence in a longitudinal design.

Oades RD, Myint AM, Dauvermann MR, Schimmelmann BG, Schwarz MJ. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and glial integrity: an exploration of associations of cytokines and kynurenine metabolites with symptoms and attention. Behav Brain Funct. 2010 Jun 9;6:32. doi: 10.1186/1744-9081-6-32. PMID: 20534153; PMCID: PMC2900218.