Log In
Monday 24th October 2016

ADHD linked to structural brain differences

15th November 2011

People who are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood appear to inherit differences in brain structure that persist in adulthood, according to a recent US study.


F. Xavier Castellanos, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University in the US, said that although the majority of people who had ADHD in childhood improved in adulthood were able to improve, the nature of their challenges did not change.

The researchers also found that some people's brains became even more characteristic of ADHD as they aged.

Symptoms of ADHD include not being able to sit still even for short periods, daydreaming, and an inability to pay attention to most things.

Previous studies have shown that children with ADHD have less brain volume than children who do not have the disorder, especially where specific brain regions are concerned.

The areas of the brain that regulate being able to pay attention to things, as well as being able to regulate emotion, are both reduced in size.

The recent study included boys who had been recruited as study subjects as early as the 1970s.

Originally, the data had consisted of 207 young boys, all of whom were between the ages of 6 and 12.

An additional 178 boys who had not been diagnosed with ADHD served as a control group.

For the recent study, the researchers were able to include 59 of the study volunteers who had been studied since childhood, and use magnetic resonance imaging to study the brain structure of those volunteers.

In addition, the researchers were able to include 80 of the volunteers who had originally been part of the control group.

Of the 59 people who had been diagnosed with ADHD in the 1970s, 17 continued to have symptoms of the disorder as middle-aged adults.

Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, the researchers were able to conclude that the outer layer of the brain was significantly thinner in people who had ADHD as children.

Even in people whose ADHD symptoms were no longer present in adulthood, the researchers saw the same thinning of brain matter.

Castellanos said that, in people whose symptoms still presented a problem in adulthood, the thinning was particularly noticeable.

He said that the areas where there was thinning seemed to have to do with top-down control of attention and the regulation of attention, such as when people managed to put things out of their mind in order to continue concentrating on something else.

Sara Hamel, a behavioural/developmental paediatrician at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in the US, said that such studies were exciting to her, since they managed to get at the real neurobiology of ADHD.

She said that, while some people still saw ADHD as a personality trait or simply the result of bad parenting, the recent study showed there were tangible neurological deficits in place.

Castellanos said that almost all of the people he studied used stimulants in order to regulate their symptoms.

Hamel said she believed it was important for peple to realize that having ADHD was something people inherited, and that medications and behavioural therapy could both help people deal with the symptoms.

Share this page


Paula Feldman

Thursday 17th November 2011 @ 23:11

Before I would try medication for my child, I suggest that people try fish oil. At the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto they are telling parents that many parents are finding success with fish oil supplementation. A healthy diet free of additives may also prove to be beneficial for your child. Food allergies has also been linked with ADHD.


Saturday 19th November 2011 @ 2:10

Paula Feldman: did you not read the article or do you just like to write comments that are only tangentially related to the story? This piece is about brain anatomy, not medications.

Post your comment

Only registered users can comment. Fill in your e-mail address for quick registration.

Your email address:

Your comment will be checked by a Healthcare Today moderator before it is published on the site.

Mayden - Innovative cloud-based web development for the healthcare sector
© Mayden Foundation 2016