Methylphenidate (MPH) is the recommended first-line treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While MPH’s mechanism of action as a dopamine and noradrenaline transporter blocker is well known, how this translates to ADHD-related symptom mitigation is still unclear. As functional connectivity is reliably altered in ADHD, with recent literature indicating dysfunctional connectivity dynamics as well, one possible mechanism is through altering brain network dynamics. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled MPH crossover trial, 19 medication-naïve children with ADHD underwent two functional MRI scanning sessions (one on MPH and one on placebo) that included a resting state scan and two inhibitory control tasks; 27 typically developing (TD) children completed the same protocol without medication. Network control theory, which quantifies how brain activity reacts to system inputs based on underlying connectivity, was used to assess differences in average and modal functional controllability during rest and both tasks between TD children and children with ADHD (on and off MPH) and between children with ADHD on and off MPH. Children with ADHD on placebo exhibited higher average controllability and lower modal controllability of attention, reward, and somatomotor networks than TD children. Children with ADHD on MPH were statistically indistinguishable from TD children on almost all controllability metrics. These findings suggest that MPH may stabilize functional network dynamics in children with ADHD, both reducing reactivity of brain organization and making it easier to achieve brain states necessary for cognitively demanding tasks.
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