ADHD Discriminates: Disorder Affects Brains of Boys and Girls Differently

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ADHD DiscriminatesNew research suggests that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) presents itself differently in the brains of girls than in the brains of boys. Researchers say that their findings will help scientists better understand how ADHD affects girls and boys in unique ways.

“The findings showed differences in the white matter microstructure between boys and girls,” says study co-author Lisa Jacobson, who notes that structural differences were associated with observed behavioral differences. “Taken together, our findings provide preliminary evidence for unique differences in the brain’s white matter structure and function between boys and girls with ADHD,” Jacobson adds.

For the study, a total of 120 children between the ages of eight and 12 underwent a type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) called diffusion tensor imaging. It allows researchers to see neurological differences in the brain. Half of the children were diagnosed with ADHD while the other half were not. Children without ADHD were matched with children with ADHD based on such factors as IQ, age, and handedness (being right- or left-handed). Each group, with and without ADHD, consisted of 30 boys and 30 girls.

Several differences in the white matter of children with ADHD were discovered, compared to those without it. The variations showed up in different parts of the brain based on gender.

For boys with ADHD, the differences showed up in the primary motor cortex, the part of the brain responsible for controlling motor functions. For girls with ADHD, the differences appeared in the prefrontal regions of the brain, which control the ability to regulate emotions and motivation.

Dr. Glen Elliott, the medical director of Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, California, suggests that the differences may relate to how the different sexes mature: “Boys and girls differ in a number of different ways, obviously including rates of maturation,” says Elliott. He adds that even during fetal development, the differences in the brains of females and males are still present.

“Certainly some aspects of these findings might be reflective of previous studies done by other researchers showing that ADHD is associated with a delay in maturation, especially of frontal brain structure,” Elliott says.

Elliott further notes that as boys with ADHD move through their teens into adulthood, they tend to get into externalizing problems, such as reckless behavior. In comparison, girls with ADHD have a more “internalizing presentation” with anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and depression.

Unfortunately, according to Elliott, none of this may make a difference in how the disorder is treated.

“The ‘why’ of these differences remains unclear and could well be associated with quite distant other parts of the brain that connect to the regions being studied,” Elliott says.

Source for Today’s Article:
Haelle, T., “ADHD May Have Different Effects on Brains of Boys and Girls,” MedicineNet.com, October 22, 2015; http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=191378.

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