The researchers used a technique called resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study what the brain is doing when a person is not engaged in any particular activity. These patterns reveal which parts of the brain communicate with each other during this type of wakeful rest.
"It's a different way of using functional brain imaging to investigate brain networks," says Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, a research scientist at the McGovern Institute and the senior author of the paper. "Here we have subjects just lying in the scanner. This method reveals the intrinsic functional architecture of the human brain without invoking any specific task."
In people without ADHD, when the mind is unfocused, there is a distinctive synchrony of activity in brain regions known as the default mode network. Previous studies have shown that in children and adults with ADHD, two major hubs of this network the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex no longer synchronize.
In the new study, the MIT team showed for the first time that in adults who had been diagnosed with ADHD as children but no longer have it, this normal synchrony pattern is restored. "Their brains now look like those of people who never had ADHD," Mattfeld says.
However, in another measure of brain synchrony, the researchers found much more similarity between both groups of ADHD patients.
In people without ADHD, when the default mode network is active, another network, called the task positive network, is suppressed. When the brain is performing tasks that require focus, the task positive network takes over and suppresses the default mode network. If this reciprocal relationship degrades, the ability to focus declines.
Both groups of adult ADHD patients, including those who had recovered, showed patterns of simultaneous activation of both networks. This is thought to be a sign of
|Contact: Sarah McDonnell|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology