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ADHD Patients' Brain Scans Reveal Disrupted Connections

Update Date: Apr 30, 2014 01:46 PM EDT

Children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have symptoms such as difficulty concentrating and paying attention, and hyperactive behaviors. Even though researchers have known that ADHD is rooted in the brain, the exact cause of the disorder is still unknown. In a new study, researchers examined the brains of young children with ADHD via magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) and found that when the brain is at a resting state, there are still disrupted connections between different regions of the brain.

For this study, the researchers recruited 33 boys diagnosed with ADHD and 32 boys without the disorder. All participants were between the ages of six and 16. They underwent resting-state functional MRIs to examine the brain when it is not focused on any particular task. Typically, MRIs are used to study brain activity when the person is actively performing a specific task. However, researchers have started using rfMRI more frequently to assess the brain's functional organization.

When the researchers compared the scans of ADHD children to the healthy controls, they found that ADHD patients had abnormal executive function. Executive function encompasses a set of mental abilities that include planning, organizing, managing time and regulating emotion. The scans revealed that the adolescents with ADHD had disrupted connections in certain areas of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex and the globus pallidus.

"Our study suggests that the structural and functional abnormalities in these brain regions might cause the inattention and hyperactivity of the patients with ADHD, and we are doing further analysis on their correlation with the clinical symptoms," said Qiyong Gong, M.D., Ph.D., a neuroradiologist from the Department of Radiology at West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Sichuan, China. "Our preliminary results show the association between imaging findings and symptoms."

The researchers believe that analyzing these brain connection abnormalities could unveil more information about ADHD. More research could help create better diagnostic tests and treatments for the condition.

"Our results suggest the potential clinical utility of the rfMRI changes as a useful marker, which may help in diagnosis and in monitoring disease progression and, consequently, may inform timely clinical intervention in the future," Dr. Gong added according to the press release.

The study, "Intrinsic Brain Abnormalities in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resting-State Functional MR Imaging Study," was published in Radiology.

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