Objective: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric disorder affecting 5% of children. Methylphenidate (MPH) is a common medication for ADHD. Studies examining MPH’s effect on pediatric ADHD patients’ brain function using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have not been compiled. The goals of this systematic review were to determine (1) which areas of the brain in pediatric ADHD patients are modulated by a single dose of MPH, (2) whether areas modulated by MPH differ by task type performed during fMRI data acquisition, and (3) whether changes in brain activation due to MPH relate to clinical improvements in ADHD-related symptoms.
Methods: We searched the electronic databases PubMed and PsycINFO (1967–2011) using the following terms: ADHD AND (methylphenidate OR MPH OR ritalin) AND (neuroimaging OR MRI OR fMRI OR BOLD OR event related), and identified 200 abstracts, 9 of which were reviewed based on predefined criteria.
Results: In ADHD patients the middle and inferior frontal gyri, basal ganglia, and cerebellum were most often affected by MPH. The middle and inferior frontal gyri were frequently affected by MPH during inhibitory control tasks. Correlation between brain regions and clinical improvement was not possible due to the lack of symptom improvement measures within the included studies.
Conclusions: Throughout nine task-based fMRI studies investigating MPH’s effect on the brains of pediatric patients with ADHD, MPH resulted in increased activation within frontal lobes, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. In most cases, this increase “normalized” activation of at least some brain areas to that seen in typically developing children.