ADHD: Large imaging study confirms differences in several brain regions

Cathy QuinnFeb 17 , 2017

The brains of people with ADHD are smaller in five regions than the brains of people without ADHD, according to a new global neuro-imaging study led by Dutch researcher Barbara Franke of the Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen.

For the study, the team measured differences in the brain structure of 1,713 people with a diagnosis of ADHD and 1,529 people without, all aged between four and 63 years old.

According to the scans, suspected ADHD sufferers have an overall smaller brain size, which also goes for five specific regions of the brain, including the amygdala - responsible for regulating emotions.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and was published online Wednesday in the journal, Lancet Psychiatry. The researchers also looked at the effect of age, gender, medication and other psychiatric disorders.

The overall volume of the brain was smaller for people with ADHD.

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The regions affected included the amygdala, which is involved in the regulation of emotion.

She says that the "unprecedented size" of their study is crucial because it helped to identify the "very small - in the range of a few percent" differences in brain region sizes. This is the largest such study for ADHD to date, Radboud UMC announced on its website.

Prescriptions for drugs such as Ritalin for children diagnosed with ADHD are thought to have doubled in the last decade, despite concerns they can cause adverse reactions like weight loss, liver toxicity and suicidal thoughts. These brain changes were also observed in children and even in adults with ADHD.

Other experts described the findings as interesting but said there wasn't enough information to link the brain differences to behavioural problems seen in people with ADHD.

The scientists reviewed one scan per person and found no effect from ADHD medications.

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A new study, the largest ever of its kind, may shed light. According to them, their findings may aid in improving the understanding of ADHD, challenging beliefs about the condition to do away with labels attached to it.

Hoogman hopes that these results will provide more understanding about ADHD and disprove certain stigmas about the disorder, such as that ADHD is caused by bad parenting or simply a label given to hard children.

Commenting on the study from an independent perspective, Jonathan Posner of Columbia University, who works in the field of ADHD science, described these findings as an "important contribution".

The results showed that the brains of people with ADHD are smaller than those of healthy subjects.

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