FRIDAY, Oct. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe brain activity related to emotional responses and working memory can help distinguish between pediatric bipolar disorder (PBD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conditions which may have similar symptoms in children, according to a study in the October issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Alessandra M. Passarotti, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues performed fMRI on non-medicated children with either PBD or ADHD, as well as a control group of healthy children. The children, aged 10 to 18, underwent the fMRI while performing a working memory task in which they were shown pictures of faces with angry, happy, or neutral expressions and tried to match them to the same faces and emotions seen in an earlier round.
For both conditions, the fMRI revealed dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex, which controls executive function, working memory, attention, language, and impulsivity. The researchers found that the ADHD group exhibited severe dysfunction in working memory circuits in the brain, while the PBD group exhibited dysfunction in regions of the brain involved in processing and regulating emotion. Both disorders exhibited decreased cortico-subcortical activity with negative emotional challenge and increased activity with positive emotional challenge.
"Our hope is that, by better differentiating between these two severe developmental illnesses, we can help develop more accurate diagnoses and more targeted treatments for PBD and ADHD," Passarotti said in a statement.
Two study authors disclosed receiving research support from pharmaceutical companies.