Summary: A new neuroimaging study has identified significant reductions in neural plasticity at the whole-brain and sub-network levels associated with cognitive flexibility in children with ADHD.
A source: University of North Carolina
Multitasking is not just an office skill. This is key to functioning as a human being, and it involves something called cognitive flexibility – the ability to easily switch between mental processes.
UNC scientists conducted a study to describe neural activity analogs of cognitive flexibility and to find differences in brain activity in children with ADHD.
Their findings are in the journal Molecular psychiatrycan help doctors diagnose children with ADHD and monitor the severity of the condition and the effectiveness of treatment.
Some people are more cognitively flexible than others. It is somehow the luck of the genetic endowment, but once we realize that we are inflexible, we can improve our cognitive flexibility.
Think about it: if we can start dinner, boil the onions, text a friend, go back to making dinner without burning the onions, and then finish dinner while chatting with your spouse, we are cognitively flexible.
We become cognitively flexible when we change our communication style when talking to a friend, then a girlfriend, then a colleague, or when we creatively solve problems, say when we realize we don’t have onions to make the dinner you wanted. so you need a new plan.
It is part of our executive function, which provides access to memories and self-control. Impaired executive function is a hallmark of ADHD in both children and adults.
When we are cognitively inflexible, we can’t focus on certain tasks, forget what we were doing while cooking dinner, pick up our phone and scroll through social media without thinking. In adults, but especially in children, such cognitive inflexibility can impair an individual’s ability to learn and perform tasks.
The UNC scientists, led by senior author Weiley Lin, director of the UNC Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC), wanted to know what happens in the brain when executive function, particularly cognitive flexibility, is offline.
Lin and colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study neural plasticity in 180 children diagnosed with ADHD and 180 typically developing children.
“We observed neural plasticity in the ADHD group at the whole-brain and sub-network level,” said Lin, Dixie Boni Su, Distinguished Professor of Neurological Medicine in the UNC Department of Radiology, “particularly in the default mode network, attention-related networks, executive function-related networks, and sensory , the main areas of the brain involved in motor and visual processes.
The researchers also found that children with ADHD who received medication had significantly increased neural flexibility compared to children with ADHD who did not take medication. The medicated children showed neuroplasticity that was not statistically different from a group of typically developing children.
Finally, the researchers found that they could use fMRI to find differences in neural plasticity in all brain regions between children with ADHD and typically developing children.
“And we were able to predict ADHD severity using clinical measures of symptom severity,” Lin said. “We believe our study demonstrates the potential clinical utility of neural plasticity for identifying children with ADHD, as well as for monitoring treatment responses and the severity of the condition in individual children.”
Other authors on the paper are first author Weiyang Yin, Tengfei Li, Jessica Cohen, Hongtu Zhu, Qilian Zhu – all of UNC-Chapel Hill – and Peter Mucha, formerly of UNC, now at Dartmouth University.
Funding: The National Institutes of Health, Autism Speaks, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Leon Levy Foundation, and the Phyllis Green and Randolph Cowan Foundation funded this research.
This is about ADHD research news
Author: Mark Derevich
A source: University of North Carolina
The connection: Mark Derevich – University of North Carolina
Photo: Image is in the public domain
Original research: Open access.
Weili Lin et al., “Altered neural plasticity in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Molecular psychiatry
Altered neural plasticity in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood and is often characterized by changes in executive function. Executive function is supported by the flexibility of the brain’s dynamic configuration.
Thus, we applied multilayer community detection to resting-state fMRI data from 180 children with ADHD and 180 typically developing children (TDC). We specifically assessed MR-derived neural plasticity, which underlies cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch selectively between mental processes.
A significant reduction in neuronal plasticity was observed in the ADHD group in both the whole brain (raw P= 0.0005) and sub-network level (P< 0.05, FDR corrected), especially for the default mode network, attention-related networks, executive function-related networks, and core networks.
Furthermore, subjects with ADHD who received medication had significantly increased neuronal plasticity (P= 0.025, FDR corrected) compared with ADHD patients who did not take medication and their neuroplasticity was not statistically different from the TDC group (P= 0.74, FDR corrected).
Finally, regional neural plasticity was able to distinguish ADHD from TDC (Accuracy: 77% for tenfold cross-validation, 74.46% for independent test) and predict ADHD severity using clinical measures of symptom severity (Rtwo: 0.2794 for tenfold cross validation, 0.156 for independent test).
In conclusion, this study shows that neural plasticity is altered in children with ADHD and the possible clinical utility of neural plasticity to identify children with ADHD, as well as to monitor treatment responses and disease severity.