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.