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Inside the adult ADHD brain

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

About 11 percent of school-age children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While many of these children eventually “outgrow” the disorder, some carry their difficulties into adulthood: About 10 million American adults are currently diagnosed with ADHD.

In the first study to compare patterns of brain activity in adults who recovered from childhood ADHD and those who did not, MIT neuroscientists have discovered key differences in a brain communication network that is active when the brain is at wakeful rest and not focused on a particular task. The findings offer evidence of a biological basis for adult ADHD and should help to validate the criteria used to diagnose the disorder, according to the researchers.

Diagnoses of adult ADHD have risen dramatically in the past several years, with symptoms similar to those of childhood ADHD: a general inability to focus, reflected in difficulty completing tasks, listening to instructions, or remembering details.

“The psychiatric guidelines for whether a person’s ADHD is persistent or remitted are based on lots of clinical studies and impressions. This new study suggests that there is a real biological boundary between those two sets of patients,” says MIT’s John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and an author of the study, which appears in the June 10 issue of the journal Brain. Read the full story...

At left, the brains of adults who had ADHD as children but no longer have it show synchronous activity between the posterior cingulate cortex (the larger red region) and the medial prefrontal cortex (smaller red region). At right, the brains of adults who continue to experience ADHD do not show this synchronous activity. Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT (based on images courtesy of the researchers)