My current and recent research is on childhood psychiatric disorders with a special focus on ADHD and related disorders. It is aimed at answering fundamental questions concerning the causes of these conditions and translating knowledge gained through basic research to develop more effective ways to manage disorder for the benefit of patients and their families. There are currently three overarching themes to my work which is organised through the Institute of Disorders of Impulse and Attention at the University of Southampton and conducted through collaborations with colleagues in other European (especially Ghent and Leuven) and North American Universities as well industrial and local NHS partners. Crucial to the success of these research themes has been the development of the South Hampshire ADHD Register (SHARe) which provides both a standardised clinical assessment for local clinicians and ensures sufficient recruitment of clinical patients.
A. Identification of new treatment targets for childhood behavioural disorders: This theme has two strands. (i) Neuroscience – together with colleagues and collaborators I am conducting a series of experimental studies to test hypotheses about the neural basis of ADHD and related disorder. These use predominantly EEG and MRI techniques. Five programmes are currently ongoing – reward processing (Demurie et al., 2011; Broyd et al., 2012); emotional response to delay (Broyd et al., 2012; Lemiere et al., 2012); default mode and the resting brain (including rest-to-task switching and a comparison of resting and waiting – Castellanos et al., 2007; Broyd et al., 2011; Helps et al., 2012), cognitive energetics (especially event rate effects and structural and functional correlates in the norepinephrine system/locus coeruleus; Metin et al., 2012); vocal and facial emotion processing (Chronaki et al., 2011); Genes, environments and development – Our basic genetic research is mainly conducted in collaboration within large scale multi-centre, collaborations such as IMAGE and the ADHD GWAS consortium of which we are members. Recent developments include the use of genome-wide association (Stergiakouli et al., 2012), copy number variant (Elia et al., 2012) and biological pathway studies (Bralten et al., in print). More locally we have taken the lead on studies gene x environment interaction (Sonuga-Barke et al., 2009) and the genetic correlates of neuropsychological endophenotypes (Sonuga-Barke et al., 2011). Our environmental work focuses on both pre- and post natal physical and social environmental risk. We have recently completed a series of analyses on the long term developmental outcomes for children who are small for gestational age at birth (Cornforth et al., 2012), while the English Romanian Adoptees study (which is now looking at the early adult years and is based at University of Southampton and funded by the ESRC – Rutter & Sonuga-Barke, 2010) is a unique opportunity to examine the behavioural, neuro-cognitive and mental health impact of early severe social and cognitive adversity. We have recently also been awarded funds by the MRC to study brain development in this sample. Crucially our studies typically involve a longitudinal design which allows the characterisation of the developmental bases of effects. For instance, one programme of work is characterising the long term impact of negative and hostile parenting on children with behavioural problems (Cartwright et al., 2011) and another is developing a model to predict 15 year burden in children identified in preschool as being at risk for ADHD in a large epidemiological cohort (Smith et al., in prep). This will also try to identify the developmental precursors of adolescent and adult anti-social personality disorder (Koerting et al., in prep).
B. Treatment development, mechanisms of action and evaluation: Our portfolio includes trials of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments. These cover proof of concept studies of new cognitive training techniques (e.g., delay training; Markomichali et al., in prep), adaptations of already existing approaches (e.g., the New Forest Parenting Package for hard to treatment and engage children and their families; Thompson et al., in prep) as well as the study of existing pharmaceutical products in relation to novel treatment targets (neuropsychological and educational outcomes; Oosterlaan et al., in prep). We are also engaged in and leading on a number of large scale trials of psychological interventions (McCann et al., in prep).
C. Health outcomes and clinical decision making: In recent years we have started to develop an interest in developing better ways to characterise health and mental health outcomes related to ADHD and related problems. These studies typically employ qualitative approaches initially. These have examined patients and their families attitudes to ADHD medications (Harpur et al.2008), clinicians decisions concerning the treatment of ADHD (Kovshoff et al., 2012); measuring the health economics of ADHD burden and the development of a scale to explore cognitive side effects of medication (Kovshoff et al., in preparation). We are currently preparing a study to examine perceptions of clinical burden and attitudes to treatment in parents of ASD and ADHD children.
Developmental Brain-Behaviour Laboratory (DBBL)
Affiliate research group(s)
Institute for Disorders of Impulse and Attention (IDIA)
What kind of support do they think they need?
The first register of young people with ADHD in the United Kingdom.
A research initiative to target difficult to treat children and hard to reach families
A large scale RCT of two parenting programmes in New York, USA.
A major genetic initiative designed to map the genes that influence risk for ADHD and provide an understanding of the function of such genes.
A longitudinal study of children born small for gestational age (SGA), examining gene-environmental interactions (GxE)
Testing the moderate brain arousal model
Investigating the way in which specialist clinicians go about assessing and treating children with ADHD
Developing studies into protocols for funding bodies
English and Romanian Adoptees Study: Mid adolescent follow up - Dormant
Emotion recognition in preschool children with externalising problems
Exploring the interaction between patient and parental factors as moderators of outcome of ADHD
Electrophysiology of ADHD
Examining DC EEG correlates of very low frequency fluctuations in attention and cognition in ADHD
Investigating reward and delay processing in children with ADHD using EEG/ERP.
Professor Edmund Sonuga-Barke
Building 44 Highfield Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BJ
Room Number: 44/3087