Brain Imaging Research and ADD

Brain Imaging Research and ADD
People who know about Attention Deficit Disorder understand how difficult that it is to get a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. While the popular press will often discuss at great length the “over identification” of Attention Deficit Disorder, many parents travel a long road to have their children receive a diagnosis and proper medication. There is not a single test for ADD/ADHD. Many people do not believe that ADD/ADHD is a real biological disorder, since the present criteria for diagnosis are somewhat subjective. What if there were objective medical tests to diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder? Recent research suggests that using brain imaging to study certain brain structures might lead to identifying people with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Study 1 Overview-
A study of pre-school children, ages 4 and 5, by the researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and showed that there are differences in the sizes of the caudate nucleus between typically developing children and children with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder. The caudate nucleus is a brain structure that is connected with memory, learning, and motor control. The children without a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder had larger caudate volumes than their peers who had a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. Images from a high resolution MRI were analyzed to obtain these findings. Changes to the caudate nucleus in the children with and without ADD/ADHD will be studied over time.

Limitations –-
This study had a small sample size. Thirteen children with Attention Deficit Disorder were compared to thirteen typically developing children. All of the children were 4 to 5 years old.

Long-term problems in learning and social development can occur due to the negative symptoms of ADD. If early identifications cause interventions to be used at an earlier age, the academic and social difficulties may be ameliorated.

Kennedy Krieger Institute (2011, June 9). Brain imaging study of preschoolers with ADHD detects brain differences linked to symptoms.ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 8, 2011, from

Study 2 Overview--
While children were having their brains scanned in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) unit, they were shown three red numbers. Then, they were shown sets of three black numbers. The children needed to indicate which sets of black numbers matched the original red numbers. The activity in their brains was mapped. After analysis, it was shown that regions of the brain that processed visual attention activity behaved differently in the two groups. Children with ADD processed visual information using “partially different functional brain pathways.”

This study had a small sample size. Eighteen children with Attention Deficit Disorder were compared to eighteen typically developing children. All of the children were between 9 to 15 years old.

Currently, psychiatrists use social and academic histories, subjective ratings scales, and computer generated tests of attention along with the DSM-IV-TR to generate a diagnosis for Attention Deficit Disorder. Using the fMRI to find disrupted brain pathways might lead to finding a biological marker for ADD that could be used for diagnosis.

Radiological Society of North America (2011, November 28). Functional brain pathways disrupted in children with ADHD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 8, 2011, from

Advances in imaging technology and understanding that Attention Deficit Disorder is a biologically based brain difference, or series of differences, is leading to studies that may help us better understand the myriad reasons for ADD. Some of these causes might lie in the architecture of the brain. Others might include the brain’s chemical signaling processes. Further reasons might involve the expression of genes and their variants. I suspect that understanding the mystery of Attention Deficit Disorder will show that there are many interconnected explanations for this fascinating brain difference.

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