Sunday, April 2, 2023

Researchers use MRI to show brain changes, differences in children with ADHD

Multitasking is not just an office skill. This is key to functioning as a human, and it involves something called cognitive flexibility – the ability to switch between mental processes easily. UNC scientists conducted a study to image neural activity analogues for cognitive flexibility and discovered differences in brain activity in children with ADHD and those without.

their findings in the journal molecular psychiatryCan help doctors diagnose children with ADHD and monitor the severity of the condition and treatment effectiveness.

Some people are more cognitively flexible than others. It is in some ways the luck of the genetic draw, although we can improve our cognitive flexibility when we realize that we are being inflexible. Think of it this way: We’re cognitively flexible when we can start dinner, let the onions boil, text a friend, come back to make dinner without burning the onions, and then go back to our Finish the dinner while chatting with your spouse. We are also cognitively flexible when we change communication styles when talking to a friend and then a daughter and then a coworker, or when we solve problems creatively, say, when you realize that You don’t have onions to cook dinner, so you need a new plan.

It is part of our executive function, which includes accessing memories and displaying self-control. Poor executive function is a hallmark of ADHD in children and adults.

When we’re cognitively inflexible, we can’t focus on certain tasks, we pick up the phone and scroll through social media mindlessly, forgetting what we’re doing while we cook dinner. Huh. In adults but especially in children, this type of cognitive inflexibility can wreak havoc with a person’s ability to learn and complete tasks.

UNC scientists, led by senior author Weili Lin, PhD, director of the UNC Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC), wanted to find out what was happening throughout the brain when executive function, specifically cognitive flexibility, is turned off.

Lin and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the neural flexibility of 180 children diagnosed with ADHD and 180 typically developing children.

“We observed a significant reduction in neural flexibility in the ADHD group at both the whole-brain and sub-network levels,” said Lin, Dixie Bonnie Sue Distinguished Professor of Neurological Medicine in the UNC Department of Radiology, “particularly for the default mode network.” Attention-related networks, executive function-related networks, and primary brain networks involved in sensory, motor, and visual processing.”

Researchers also found that children with ADHD who received medication had significantly increased neural flexibility compared to children with ADHD who were not taking the drug. The children taking the drug displayed neural resilience that was not statistically different from the group of traditionally developing children.

Finally, the researchers found that they could use fMRI to find differences in neural flexibility across brain regions between children with ADHD and those with conventionally developing children.

“And we were able to predict ADHD severity using clinical measures of symptom severity,” Lin said. “We think our study demonstrates the potential clinical utility of neural flexibility for identifying children with ADHD, as well as monitoring treatment responses and severity of the condition in individual children.”

The other authors of the paper are first authors Weian Yin, Tengfei Li, Jessica Cohen, Hongtu Zhu, Ziliang Zhu – all at UNC-Chapel Hill – and Peter Mucha, formerly of UNC and now at Dartmouth University.

An endowment from the National Institutes of Health, Autism Speaks, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Leon Levy Foundation, and Phyllis Greene and Randolph Cowen funded this research.

Nation World News Desk
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