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MRI Scans Could Help Diagnose ADHD in Children

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Results from a study led by the Yale School of Medicine show that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans can help diagnose attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children more effectively than current methods.

Statistics suggest that ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, affecting approximately six million young people under the age of 18 in the US alone. The condition has a variety of symptoms, but is often characterized by difficulty paying attention, hyperactive behavior, or a lack of impulse control.

Current diagnostic methods rely on a caregiver accurately answering a checklist of questions, as well as other subjective measures, which can make it difficult to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

“There is a need for a more objective methodology for more efficient and reliable diagnosis,” said study co-author Huang Lin, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, who will present the study at the annual meeting from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) next week. “ADHD symptoms often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because the evaluation is subjective.”

The researchers studied MRI imaging data used as part of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Studycurrently the largest long-term study of brain development and children’s health in the US. The participants were between the ages of 9 and 10 and were recruited from 21 study centers across the country.

The team collected fMRI imaging data from 1,830 subjects with ADHD and 6,067 without ADHD to look for possible differences in neurology. The specific measures used included: fractional anisotropy, neurite density, mean, radial, and axial diffusion of white matter tracts.

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The results showed that children with ADHD had remarkable differences in neuroimaging of the brain. For example, they had lower fractional anisotropy and neurite density, but higher mean and radial diffusion than children without ADHD.

“We found changes in almost all brain areas that we examined. Its ubiquity throughout the brain was surprising, as many previous studies have identified changes in selective regions,” Lin said in a press statement.

The researchers saw abnormal brain connectivity in children with ADHD versus controls in areas involved in memory processing and auditory processing. They also saw a thinner cortex and changes in white matter, especially in the frontal lobe of the brain.

“The frontal lobe is the area of ​​the brain involved in controlling impulsivity and attention or lack thereof — two of the main symptoms of ADHD,” Lin said.

The team now hopes to develop their findings into a diagnostic tool, ideally using artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze precise differences between children with and without the condition.

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