There is increasing evidence that abnormalities in glutamate signalling may contribute to the pathophysiology of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ([1H]MRS) can be used to measure glutamate, and also its metabolite glutamine, in vivo. However, few studies have investigated glutamate in the brain of adults with ADHD naive to stimulant medication. Therefore, we used [1H]MRS to measure the combined signal of glutamate and glutamine (Glu+Gln; abbreviated as Glx) along with other neurometabolites such as creatine (Cr), N-acetylaspartate (NAA) and choline. Data were acquired from three brain regions, including two implicated in ADHD-the basal ganglia (caudate/striatum) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)-and one 'control' region-the medial parietal cortex. We compared 40 adults with ADHD, of whom 24 were naive for ADHD medication, whereas 16 were currently on stimulants, against 20 age, sex and IQ-matched healthy controls. We found that compared with controls, adult ADHD participants had a significantly lower concentration of Glx, Cr and NAA in the basal ganglia and Cr in the DLPFC, after correction for multiple comparisons. There were no differences between stimulant-treated and treatment-naive ADHD participants. In people with untreated ADHD, lower basal ganglia Glx was significantly associated with more severe symptoms of inattention. There were no significant differences in the parietal 'control' region. We suggest that subcortical glutamate and glutamine have a modulatory role in ADHD adults; and that differences in glutamate-glutamine levels are not explained by use of stimulant medication.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere373
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2014


  • ADHD
  • Basal ganglia
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • Parietal lobe


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