Pediatricians routinely use growth charts to measure patients' height, weight and head circumference to look for abnormalities. What about using growth charting to examine maturation of functional networks in the brain to look for neurocognitive abnormalities such as attention impairment?

That's what Chandra Sripada, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and coauthors did in a new study published online by JAMA Psychiatry.

Authors investigated alterations in intrinsic connectivity networks (ICNs), which are important units of brain functional organization that show substantial maturation during youth, and attention performance. Statistical associations between deviations from normative network growth were assessed for outcomes, including a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The study used publicly available data from a sample of young people who underwent assessments including neuroimaging. The authors' analysis included data from 519 youth (average age almost 16) and, of those, 25 young people (4.8 percent) met the criteria for ADHD.

Deviations from normative maturation patterns of brain network growth appeared to be associated with impaired sustained attention performance and ADHD diagnosis, according to the results.

The authors note study limitations which include that their findings need to be replicated.

"This study introduces a novel brain network growth charting method for the prediction of attention impairment. Our results invite further investigation into the use of neuroimaging to identify patterns of brain dysmaturation that can serve as early, objective markers of cognitive problems and disorder vulnerability," the study concludes.