A preliminary study of the effects of working memory training on brain function

Michael C. Stevens, Alexandra Gaynor, Katie L. Bessette, Godfrey D. Pearlson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Working memory (WM) training improves WM ability in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but its efficacy for non-cognitive ADHD impairments ADHD has been sharply debated. The purpose of this preliminary study was to characterize WM training-related changes in ADHD brain function and see if they were linked to clinical improvement. We examined 18 adolescents diagnosed with DSM-IV Combined-subtype ADHD before and after 25 sessions of WM training using a frequently employed approach (Cogmed™) using a nonverbal Sternberg WM fMRI task, neuropsychological tests, and participant- and parent-reports of ADHD symptom severity and associated functional impairment. Whole brain SPM8 analyses identified ADHD activation deficits compared to 18 non-ADHD control participants, then tested whether impaired ADHD frontoparietal brain activation would increase following WM training. Post hoc tests examined the relationships between neural changes and neurocognitive or clinical improvements. As predicted, WM training increased WM performance, ADHD clinical functioning, and WM-related ADHD brain activity in several frontal, parietal and temporal lobe regions. Increased left inferior frontal sulcus region activity was seen in all Encoding, Maintenance, and Retrieval Sternberg task phases. ADHD symptom severity improvements were most often positively correlated with activation gains in brain regions known to be engaged for WM-related executive processing; improvement of different symptom types had different neural correlates. The responsiveness of both amodal WM frontoparietal circuits and executive process-specific WM brain regions was altered by WM training. The latter might represent a promising, relatively unexplored treatment target for researchers seeking to optimize clinical response in ongoing ADHD WM training development efforts.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)387-407
    Number of pages21
    JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


    • ADHD
    • Brain
    • FMRI
    • Training
    • Working memory

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
    • Neurology
    • Cognitive Neuroscience
    • Clinical Neurology
    • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
    • Psychiatry and Mental health
    • Behavioral Neuroscience

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