Subtyping attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder using temperament dimensions: Toward biologically based nosologic criteria

Sarah L. Karalunas, Damien Fair, Erica D. Musser, Kamari Aykes, Swathi P. Iyer, Joel T. Nigg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

250 Scopus citations


Importance Psychiatric nosology is limited by behavioral and biological heterogeneity within existing disorder categories. The imprecise nature of current nosologic distinctions limits both mechanistic understanding and clinical prediction.We demonstrate an approach consistent with the National Institute of Mental Health Research Domain Criteria initiative to identify superior, neurobiologically valid subgroups with better predictive capacity than existing psychiatric categories for childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Objective To refine subtyping of childhood ADHD by using biologically based behavioral dimensions (ie, temperament), novel classification algorithms, and multiple external validators. Design, Setting, and Participants A total of 437 clinicallywell-characterized, community-recruited children, with and without ADHD, participated in an ongoing longitudinal study. Baseline data were used to classify children into subgroups based on temperament dimensions and examine external validators including physiological and magnetic resonance imaging measures. One-year longitudinal follow-up data are reported for a subgroup of the ADHD sample to address stability and clinical prediction. Main Outcomes and Measures Parent/guardian ratings of children on a measure of temperament were used as input features in novel community detection analyses to identify subgroups within the sample. Groups were validated using 3 widely accepted external validators: peripheral physiological characteristics (cardiac measures of respiratory sinus arrhythmia and pre-ejection period), central nervous system functioning (via resting-state functional connectivitymagnetic resonance imaging), and clinical outcomes (at 1-year longitudinal follow-up). Results The community detection algorithm suggested 3 novel types of ADHD, labeled as mild (normative emotion regulation), surgent (extreme levels of positive approachmotivation), and irritable (extreme levels of negative emotionality, anger, and poor soothability). Types were independent of existing clinical demarcations including DSM-5 presentations or symptom severity. These types showed stability over time and were distinguished by unique patterns of cardiac physiological response, resting-state functional brain connectivity, and clinical outcomes 1 year later. Conclusions and Relevance Results suggest that a biologically informed temperament-based typology, developed with a discovery-based community detection algorithm, provides a superior description of heterogeneity in the ADHD population than does any current clinical nosologic criteria. This demonstration sets the stage for more aggressive attempts at a tractable, biologically based nosology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1015-1024
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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