Background: Dysfunctional reward processing, accompanied by a limited ability to tolerate reward delays, has been proposed as an important feature in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Methods: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), brain activation in adult patients with ADHD (n=14) and healthy control subjects (n=12) was examined during a series of choices between two monetary reward options that varied by delay to delivery.
Results: Compared with healthy control subjects, hyporesponsiveness of the ventral-striatal reward system was replicated in patients with ADHD and was evident for both immediate and delayed rewards. In contrast, delayed rewards evoked hyperactivation in dorsal caudate nucleus and amygdala of ADHD patients. In both structures, neural activity toward delayed rewards was significantly correlated with self-rated ADHD symptom severity.
Conclusions: The finding of ventral-striatal hyporesponsiveness during immediate and delayed reward processing in patients with ADHD further strengthens the concept of a diminished neural processing of rewards in ADHD. Hyperactivation during delayed reward processing, gradually increasing along the ventral-to-dorsal extension of the caudate nucleus, and especially the concomitant hyperactivation of the amygdala are in accordance with predictions of the delay aversion hypothesis.