Brain structural deficits and working memory fMRI dysfunction in young adults who were diagnosed with ADHD in adolescence

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016 May;25(5):529-38. doi: 10.1007/s00787-015-0755-8. Epub 2015 Aug 26.


When adolescents with ADHD enter adulthood, some no longer meet disorder diagnostic criteria but it is unknown if biological and cognitive abnorma lities persist. We tested the hypothesis that people diagnosed with ADHD during adolescence present residual brain abnormalities both in brain structure and in working memory brain function. 83 young adults (aged 20-24 years) from the Northern Finland 1986 Birth Cohort were classified as diagnosed with ADHD in adolescence (adolescence ADHD, n = 49) or a control group (n = 34). Only one patient had received medication for ADHD. T1-weighted brain scans were acquired and processed in a voxel-based analysis using permutation-based statistics. A sub-sample of both groups (ADHD, n = 21; controls n = 23) also performed a Sternberg working memory task whilst acquiring fMRI data. Areas of structural difference were used as a region of interest to evaluate the implications that structural abnormalities found in the ADHD group might have on working memory function. There was lower grey matter volume bilaterally in adolescence ADHD participants in the caudate (p < 0.05 FWE corrected across the whole brain) at age 20-24. Working memory was poorer in adolescence ADHD participants, with associated failure to show normal load-dependent caudate activation. Young adults diagnosed with ADHD in adolescence have structural and functional deficits in the caudate associated with abnormal working memory function. These findings are not secondary to stimulant treatment, and emphasise the importance of taking a wider perspective on ADHD outcomes than simply whether or not a particular patient meets diagnostic criteria at any given point in time.

Keywords: ADHD; Hyperkinetic; MRI; Memory; Neuroanatomy; VBM.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnostic imaging*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Memory Disorders / epidemiology
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Memory, Short-Term* / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Young Adult