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Infant brain structures, executive function, and attention deficit/hyperactivity problems at preschool age. A prospective study

Authors

  • Akhgar Ghassabian,

    1. The Generation R Study Group, Erasmus MC
    2. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Catherine M. Herba,

    1. Department of Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal
    2. Ste-Justine’s Hospital Research Centre, Montréal, Canada
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  • Sabine J. Roza,

    1. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Paul Govaert,

    1. Neonatology, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Jacqueline J. Schenk,

    1. Erasmus School of Pedagogical Sciences, Erasmus University
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  • Vincent W. Jaddoe,

    1. Epidemiology, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
    2. Paediatrics, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Albert Hofman,

    1. Epidemiology, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Tonya White,

    1. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
    2. Radiology, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Frank C. Verhulst,

    1. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Henning Tiemeier

    1. Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC–Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
    3. Epidemiology, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
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  • Conflict of interest statement: The first phase of Generation R was supported by Erasmus Medical Centre Rotterdam, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw 10.000.1003). Dr. Frank C. Verhulst is the contributing editor of the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment, from which he receives remuneration. For the other authors, no competing financial interest exists.

Abstract

Background:  Neuroimaging findings have provided evidence for a relation between variations in brain structures and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, longitudinal neuroimaging studies are typically confined to children who have already been diagnosed with ADHD. In a population-based study, we aimed to characterize the prospective association between brain structures measured during infancy and executive function and attention deficit/hyperactivity problems assessed at preschool age.

Methods:  In the Generation R Study, the corpus callosum length, the gangliothalamic ovoid diameter (encompassing the basal ganglia and thalamus), and the ventricular volume were measured in 784 6-week-old children using cranial postnatal ultrasounds. Parents rated executive functioning at 4 years using the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Preschool Version in five dimensions: inhibition, shifting, emotional control, working memory, and planning/organizing. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Problems were assessed at ages 3 and 5 years using the Child Behavior Checklist.

Results:  A smaller corpus callosum length during infancy was associated with greater deficits in executive functioning at 4 years. This was accounted for by higher problem scores on inhibition and emotional control. The corpus callosum length during infancy did not predict Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Problem at 3 and 5 years, when controlling for the confounders. We did not find any relation between gangliothalamic ovoid diameter and executive function or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Problem.

Conclusions:  Variations in brain structures detectible in infants predicted subtle impairments in inhibition and emotional control. However, in this population-based study, we could not demonstrate that early structural brain variations precede symptoms of ADHD.

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