Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD)
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ADHD Brain Science
People with ADHD have measurable differences in their brain structure. Children with ADHD have less white matter in their brains.
ADHD arises in distinct regions of the developing brain. Magnetic resonance imaging reveals that brain regions are smaller in people with ADHD than in those without ADHD. These areas are the caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, and hippocampus.
Research has shown impaired neurotransmitter activity in several regions of the brain:
- Frontal cortex. The seat of high-level functioning in the brain, this region helps people with working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. The prefrontal cerebral cortex covers the front of the frontal lobe. A deficiency of norepinephrine within this brain region may be responsible for inattention and problems with higher-order thinking.
- Limbic system. This region, located deep in the brain, regulates our emotions. Symptoms may include restlessness, inattention, or emotional volatility.
- Basal ganglia. These neural circuits regulate communication within the brain. Information from all regions of the brain enters the basal ganglia and is relayed to other areas of the brain. Deficits in the basal ganglia can cause the information to “short-circuit,” causing inattention or impulsivity.
- Reticular activating system. This is the most important relay system of the many pathways in the brain’s information superhighway. A block in the RAS can lead to inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity.
Flawed proteins delay the transmission of chemical messages between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain and nervous system. These stumbling blocks in brain circuitry provide vital clues to understanding ADHD.
Brain scans show significant anatomical and structural differences in the brains of people with ADHD. What if you could peer into the brain of someone with ADHD to see what people are thinking? With noninvasive tools like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers map the regions of the brain and measure activity in the frontal cortex, the seat of higher-order thinking.
Inside a long, tube-like fMRI machine, nestled in blankets in the darkness, subjects listen and respond to random beeps. In one test, for example, called the “auditory oddball” test, a series of beeps on one note is played, followed occasionally by a beep on another, higher, note. The auditory experiment measures activity in the brain’s frontal cortex.
By studying brain activity in ADHD and non-ADHD subjects, it is possible to characterize drugs can that are different about ADHD brain function. Researchers hope that understanding the differences will eventually lead to better diagnosis and treatment.
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