Kennedy Krieger Researchers Identify Gender Differences in Brain Structure and Function Among Children with ADHD

Sowmya Nath,'s picture
March 10, 2015
Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute recently announced study results showing the influence of gender on the brain development and function of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

BALTIMORE, MD – Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute recently announced study results showing the influence of gender on the brain development and function of children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The study, published in NeuroImage: Clinical, investigates whether frontal lobe cortical morphology, or the anatomy of the frontal lobe, differs between boys and girls ages 8 to 12 years with ADHD compared to their typically developing peers. According to the American Psychiatric Association, ADHD affects 5 percent of children in the United States.

“There is limited research on the influence of gender differences on brain structure and function in children with ADHD,” explained Stewart Mostofsky, M.D., the director of the Center for Neurodevelopmental and Imaging Research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and one of the study’s authors. “Enhanced understanding of the brain’s physical structure and functioning in relation to how ADHD manifests in girls versus boys have the potential to impact the way that parents, teachers and therapists teach and treat these children.”

The researchers found that girls, but not boys, with ADHD showed overall reductions in total prefrontal cortex surface area, the part of the brain responsible for multi-tasking, decision-making and completing complex tasks. In contrast, boys showed overall reductions in total motor and premotor cortex surface area, the part of the brain responsible for selecting and coordinating motor skills. This difference correlates directly with the ADHD behavioral symptoms boys and girls tend to exhibit; while girls show inattentive behavior, boys express more hyperactive behavior.

Kennedy Krieger researchers used a high resolution 3T magnetization–prepared rapid gradient-echo (MP-RAGE) MRI to compare the brain structures of 226 children, including 93 children with ADHD—29 girls and 64 boys—and 133 typically developing children—42 girls and 91 boys. Researchers then used a fully automated frontal lobe atlas, developed in their laboratory, to examine and compare the surface area and cortical thickness among boys and girls with ADHD. While surface area differed between the groups, there were no significant differences in cortical thickness.

Study authors believe these differences could represent the dissimilar pace of childhood development between girls and boys, as a girl’s brain structure and associated function mature earlier, and motor systems mature earlier than do prefrontal systems. However, more ADHD research is needed to see the full impact of gender on childhood development into adolescence.

“With additional research, we hope to better understand the trajectory of brain development in children with ADHD and how this differs in girls and boys with the disorder,” said Mostofsky. “In the near future, we are looking to use a longitudinal approach to examine whether the gender differences seen during childhood persist into adolescence. This could inform us as to whether the gender differences seen in childhood are related to distinctions in developmental lag, or whether they reflect sustained distinctions in how ADHD manifests in girls versus boys.”

This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, which is funded in part by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

About the Kennedy Krieger Institute

Internationally recognized for improving the lives of children and adolescents with disorders and injuries of the brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal system, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD, serves more than 20,000 individuals each year through inpatient and outpatient clinics, home and community services and school-based programs. Kennedy Krieger provides a wide range of services for children with developmental concerns mild to severe, and is home to a team of investigators who are contributing to the understanding of how disorders develop while pioneering new interventions and earlier diagnosis. For more information on the Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit www.kennedykrieger.org.

Media Contact:

Katie Willmott
Phone: 443-923-7330
Email: media@kennedykrieger.org

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