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Study: MRI scans show widespread brain changes in children with ADHD

Researchers said they found changes in almost all the regions of the brain they investigated via MRI scan data of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Photo by Dale Mahalko/Wikimedia Commons
Researchers said they found changes in almost all the regions of the brain they investigated via MRI scan data of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Photo by Dale Mahalko/Wikimedia Commons

Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Researchers said Wednesday they found changes in almost all the regions of the brain they investigated via MRI scan data of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Children with ADHD had abnormal connectivity in the brain networks involved in memory processing and auditory processing, a thinning of the brain cortex, and significant white matter microstructural changes, especially in the frontal lobe of the brain.

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The results of the new research on brain biomarkers of ADHD -- based on analysis of data from MRI exams of 7,805 children -- is scheduled to be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

"We found changes in almost all the regions of the brain we investigated," Huang Lin, the study's co-author and a post-graduate researcher at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., said in a news release.

RELATED NIH: Brains of people with ADHD differ from those without disorder

She added: "The pervasiveness throughout the whole brain was surprising since many prior studies have identified changes in selective regions of the brain."

Lin noted that the frontal lobe is the area of the brain involved in governing impulsivity and attention or lack of it: two of the leading symptoms of ADHD.

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And she said the study underscores that ADHD "is a neurological disorder with neuro-structural and functional manifestations in the brain, not just a purely externalized behavior syndrome."

RELATED Most newly diagnosed kids with ADHD not getting best care, study says

The researchers described their findings as surprising since many previous studies have identified changes only in select parts of the brain in people with ADHD.

And they said their findings may pave the way for using neuroimaging machine learning to help diagnose, treat and monitor the disorder, going beyond a doctor's subjective diagnosis.

Machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, makes it possible to analyze large amounts of MRI data.

RELATED Study: Brain injury increases risk for ADHD in children -- and vice versa

"There's a need for a more objective methodology for a more efficient and reliable diagnosis" for ADHD, Lin said. ADHD symptoms are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because the evaluation is subjective."

The researchers used nationally representative MRI data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development, known as the ABCD study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

The children whose data was analyzed for the study included 1,800 diagnosed with ADHD, all of whom underwent structural MRI scans, diffusion tensor imaging and resting-state functional MRI, the release said.

The researchers performed a statistical analysis of the imaging data to determine the association of ADHD with neuroimaging metrics, including brain volume, surface area, white matter integrity and functional connectivity.

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Nationwide, an estimated 6 million children ages 3 to 17 have ever been given an ADHD diagnosis, representing represents 9.8% of this segment of the U.S. population, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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