Is there evidence for neural compensation in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? A review of the functional neuroimaging literature

Clin Psychol Rev. 2006 Aug;26(4):445-65. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2006.01.003. Epub 2006 Feb 24.


This article reviews evidence for the presence of a compensatory, alternative, neural system and its possible link to associated processing strategies in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The article presents findings on a region by region basis that suggests ADHD should be characterized not only by neural hypo-activity, as it is commonly thought but neural hyperactivity as well, in regions of the brain that may relate to compensatory brain and behavioral functioning. In this context studies from the functional neuroimaging literature are reviewed. We hypothesize that impaired prefrontal (PFC) and anterior cingulate (ACC) cortex function in ADHD reduces the ability to optimally recruit subsidiary brain regions and strategies to perform cognitive tasks. The authors conclude that healthy individuals can recruit brain regions using visual, spatial or verbal rehearsal for tasks as needed. In contrast, individuals with ADHD may be less able to engage higher order executive systems to flexibly recruit brain regions to match given task demands. This may result in greater reliance on neuroanatomy that is associated with visual, spatial, and motoric processing rather than verbal strategies. The authors speculate that this impaired flexibility in recruiting brain regions and associated strategies limits adaptation to new cognitive demands as they present and may require more effortful processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / epidemiology
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*