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MRI Shows Some Adults Really Do Outgrow ADHD

June 10, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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An MIT-led, MRI-based  study has discovered something interesting about the brains of people who were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as children but who “outgrew” the disorder in adulthood.

Aaron Mattfeld, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, put it simply:

Their brains now look like those of people who never had ADHD.

Dr. Mattfeld is lead author of a paper about the research that was published online today in Brain. He was quoted in an MIT news release.

The researchers said their findings could lead to biological criteria for diagnosing the disorder in adults. “The psychiatric guidelines for whether a person’s ADHD is persistent or remitted are based on lots of clinical studies and impressions,” said MIT’s John D. E. Gabrieli, PhD, the Grover M. Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and professor of brain and cognitive sciences. “This new study suggests that there is a real biological boundary between those two sets of patients.”

Dr. Gabrieli is an author of the study.

The researchers used functional MRI to study the brain at rest. When the mind is not focused, the brains of people without ADHD show synchrony in the default mode network. In those with ADHD, two hubs of this network, the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, do not synchronize.

The new study found that the brains of people who had ADHD as children but who were diagnosed as no longer having the disorder as adults show the normal synchrony pattern.

The next step for the researchers is to explore the effect of ADHD medications on the default mode network. About 60 percent of ADHD patients currently respond well to the first drug they receive.

“It’s unknown what’s different about the other 40 percent or so who don’t respond very much,” Dr. Gabrieli said. “We’re pretty excited about the possibility that some brain measurement would tell us which child or adult is most likely to benefit from a treatment.”

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