ADHD-related sex differences in fronto-subcortical intrinsic functional connectivity and associations with delay discounting

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Background: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with atypical fronto-subcortical neural circuitry and heightened delay discounting, or a stronger preference for smaller, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards. Recent evidence of ADHD-related sex differences in brain structure and function suggests anomalies in fronto-subcortical circuitry may differ among girls and boys with ADHD. The current study examined whether the functional connectivity (FC) within fronto-subcortical neural circuitry differs among girls and boys with ADHD compared to same-sex typically developing (TD) controls and relates to delay discounting. Methods: Participants include 8-12-year-old children with ADHD (n = 72, 20 girls) and TD controls (n = 75, 21 girls). Fronto-subcortical regions of interest were functionally defined by applying independent component analysis to resting-state fMRI data. Intrinsic FC between subcortical components, including the striatum and amygdala, and prefrontal components, including ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), was compared across diagnostic groups overall and within sex. Correlations between intrinsic FC of the six fronto-subcortical pairs and delay discounting were also examined. Results: Both girls and boys with ADHD show atypical FC between vmPFC and subcortical regions including the striatum (stronger positive FC in ADHD) and amygdala (weaker negative FC in ADHD), with the greatest diagnostic effects among girls. In addition, girls with ADHD show atypical intrinsic FC between the striatum and dlPFC components, including stronger positive FC with ACC and stronger negative FC with dlPFC. Further, girls but not boys, with ADHD, show heightened real-time delay discounting. Brain-behavior correlations suggest (1) stronger negative FC between the striatal and dlPFC components correlated with greater money delay discounting across all participants and (2) stronger FC between the amygdala with both the dlPFC and ACC components was differentially related to heightened real-time discounting among girls and boys with and without ADHD. Conclusions: Our findings suggest fronto-subcortical functional networks are affected in children with ADHD, particularly girls, and relate to delay discounting. These results also provide preliminary evidence of greater disruptions in fronto-subcortical FC among girls with ADHD that is not due to elevated inattention symptom severity, intellectual reasoning ability, age, or head motion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number34
JournalJournal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 13 2018


  • ADHD
  • Delay discounting
  • Functional connectivity
  • ICA
  • Resting-state
  • Reward
  • Temporal discounting
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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