Deviant white matter structure in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder points to aberrant myelination and affects neuropsychological performance

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood is characterized by gray and white matter abnormalities in several brain areas. Considerably less is known about white matter microstructure in adults with ADHD and its relation with clinical symptoms and cognitive performance. In 107 adult ADHD patients and 109 gender-, age- and IQ-matched controls, we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) with tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) to investigate whole-skeleton changes of fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean, axial, and radial diffusivity (MD, AD, RD). Additionally, we studied the relation of FA and MD values with symptom severity and cognitive performance on tasks measuring working memory, attention, inhibition, and delay discounting. In comparison to controls, participants with ADHD showed reduced FA in corpus callosum, bilateral corona radiata, and thalamic radiation. Higher MD and RD were found in overlapping and even more widespread areas in both hemispheres, also encompassing internal and external capsule, sagittal stratum, fornix, and superior lateral fasciculus. Values of FA and MD were not associated with symptom severity. However, within some white matter clusters that distinguished patients from controls, worse inhibition performance was associated with reduced FA and more impulsive decision making was associated with increased MD. This study shows widespread differences in white matter integrity between adults with persistent ADHD and healthy individuals. Changes in RD suggest aberrant myelination as a pathophysiological factor in persistent ADHD. The microstructural differences in adult ADHD may contribute to poor inhibition and greater impulsivity but appear to be independent of disease severity.

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