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Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2012;9:49-66. doi: 10.1007/7854_2011_138.

Neurodevelopmental abnormalities in ADHD.

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Department of Psychology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA,


Structural and functional imaging studies in subjects with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are reviewed with the goal of gleaning information about neurodevelopmental abnormalities characterizing the disorder. Structural imaging studies, particularly those with longitudinal designs, suggest that brain maturation is delayed by a few years in ADHD. However, a maturational delay model alone is incomplete: alternate courses are suggested by differences associated with phenotypic factors, such as symptom remission/persistence and exposure to stimulant treatment. Findings from functional imaging studies point to multiple loci of abnormalities that are not limited to frontal-striatal circuitry, which is important for executive and motivational function, but also include parietal, temporal and motor cortices, and the cerebellum. However, a definitive conclusion about maturational delays or alternate trajectories cannot be drawn from this work as activation patterns are influenced by task-specific factors that may induce variable performance levels and strategies across development. In addition, no studies have implemented cross-sectional or longitudinal designs, without which the developmental origin of differences in activation cannot be inferred. Thus, current task-evoked functional imaging provides information about dynamic or state-dependent differences rather than fixed or trait-related differences. In the future, task-free functional imaging holds promise for revealing neurodevelopmental information that is minimally influenced by performance/strategic differences. Further, studies using longitudinal designs that identify sources of phenotypic heterogeneity in brain maturation and characterize the relationship between brain function and underlying structural properties are needed to provide a comprehensive view of neurodevelopmental abnormalities in ADHD.

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