The neural correlates of stimulus-driven processes, such as response preparation, have been posited to be associated with the onset of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) while being distinct from the neural mechanisms associated with recovery. The authors tested this hypothesis in adults with remitted and persistent ADHD.
Thirty-eight young adults who were diagnosed with combined-type ADHD in childhood (probands) and 32 carefully matched comparison subjects were followed longitudinally and scanned with functional MRI while performing an event-related cued reaction time task. Probands were characterized as individuals with persistent or remitted ADHD. Differences in thalamo-cortical activation and functional connectivity during response preparation between comparison subjects and probands and between individuals with persistent ADHD and those with remitted ADHD were assessed by contrasting neural activation and functional connectivity during cue or noncue events.
Probands exhibited less cue-related activation than comparison subjects in the thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area, inferior parietal lobe, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex despite similar overall patterns of activation. There were no differences in activation between individuals in the remitted ADHD group and those in the persistent ADHD group in any hypothesized regions. However, cue-related functional connectivity between the right thalamus and brainstem was greater in comparison subjects relative to probands, and cue-related connectivity was greater between the right thalamus and prefrontal regions in individuals with remitted ADHD relative to those with persistent ADHD.
Decreased thalamo-cortical activation during response preparation was present in adults diagnosed with ADHD in childhood regardless of symptom remission in adulthood, and may be partly driven by less functional coordination between the brainstem and thalamus. Greater functional integration of the thalamo-cortical network might parallel symptom recovery.