Functional MRI findings could open the door for more accurate ADHD diagnosis and management

Functional MRI exams recently linked altered “neural flexibility” visualized on imaging with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. 

The findings could help corroborate associations between difficulty multitasking for children with ADHD, in addition to designating a clinical pathway to diagnose, measure and treat the disorder. 

Experts discussed the results of their research recently in Molecular Psychiatry. In the paper, they explained that “neural flexibility” pertains to an individual’s ability to multitask, adapt to changes occurring around them and switch from one task to another without difficulty. The experts hypothesized that children with ADHD would display decreased or altered neural flexibility on imaging compared to typically developing children. 

“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, and is often characterized by altered executive functioning. Executive function has been found to be supported by flexibility in dynamic brain reconfiguration,” senior author Weili Lin, from the Department of Radiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and co-authors explained. 

For their research, the authors compared the data from resting-state functional MRI exams of 180 children with ADHD to 180 typically developing children, focusing on MR-derived neural flexibility. Through this, they found substantial differences between the two cohorts.  

In the ADHD group, decreased neural flexibility was observed both at the whole brain and sub-network levels. These findings were especially prevalent at the default mode network, attention-related networks, executive function-related networks and primary networks. 

Additionally, the experts noted that the children who were on medication to treat ADHD exhibited increased neural flexibility in line with the typically developing children. 

The authors suggested their findings, once further validated in larger cohorts, could provide objective measures to diagnose ADHD and monitor treatment responses in the future. 

The detailed study can be viewed here

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In addition to her background in journalism, Hannah also has patient-facing experience in clinical settings, having spent more than 12 years working as a registered rad tech. She joined Innovate Healthcare in 2021 and has since put her unique expertise to use in her editorial role with Health Imaging.

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