RSNA: Brain Development In Children Could Be Affected By ADHD Medication

adhd medication

“The use of ADHD medications in children must be carefully considered until more is known about the long-term consequences of prescribing methylphenidate at a young age”

News just in: according to a published study in the medical journal, Radiology, a drug which is prescribed to treat children with ADHA (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), has been shown to affect: “the development of the brain’s signal-carrying white matter in children with the disorder”. And although this does not apply to adults with the condition, it is nonetheless very alarming.

Ritalin and Concerta

These are the two trade names for MPH (Methylphenidate), which is frequently given to ADHD sufferers, because it has been shown to be effective for 80% of users. Looking at matters from a different perspective, however, not much is known about the way a child’s brain develops. – And this includes its white matter, which is essential for co-ordinating connections between different areas of the brain.

Looking Deeper into the Situation

Researchers in Holland decided to see what more they could discover about the effects of MPH on the development of white matter, and to that end, conducted a study on ADHD patients. This comprised 49 young adult males, and 50 boys. All of the participants had never taken MPH before  the study.

The University of Amsterdam’s Medical Center’s Department of Radiology Nuclear Medicine’s senior author, Liesbeth Reneman, M.D., Ph.D., noted: “Previous studies all have tried to statistically control for the effects of ADHD medications, but we are the first to study medication-naïve patients in this context, which, of course, is crucial if you want to know how ADHD medications affect the developing brain”.

The Study Period

The study period, which lasted 16 weeks, involved giving the subjects either a placebo, or MPH medication. Prior to, and at one week post-treatment,  the volunteers were given MRI scans. These incorporated a cutting-edge technology known as DTI (diffusion tensor imaging), which helps to assess the brain’s white matter. The state-of-the-art imaging results generate a measure, which is understood to reflect vital areas of the brain’s white matter. This includes: the size and density of nerve fibres, as well as nerve myelination,  (the procedure which coats our nerve fibers for protection; and enables them to send strong signals).

The Results

Reneman remarked: “The results show that ADHD medications can have different effects on the development of brain structure in children versus adults. In adult men with ADHD, and both boys and adult men receiving placebo, changes in FA measures were not present, suggesting that the effects of methylphenidate on brain white matter are modulated by age”.

As this was a limited study with a relatively small number of participants, more research is needed. In the meantime however, the researchers who conducted the report, are asking for stricter prescribing regulations for ADHD patients, particularly since: “MPH is being prescribed not only to increasing numbers of children, but also at younger ages”.