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The present paper presents a fundamentally novel approach to model individual differences of persons with the same biologically heterogeneous mental disorder. Unlike prevalent case-control analyses, that assume a clear distinction between patient and control groups and thereby introducing the concept of an ‘average patient’, we describe each patient's biology individually, gaining insights into the different facets that characterize persistent attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Using a normative modeling approach, we mapped inter-individual differences in reference to normative structural brain changes across the lifespan to examine the degree to which case-control analyses disguise differences between individuals.
At the level of the individual, deviations from the normative model were frequent in persistent ADHD. However, the overlap of more than 2% between participants with ADHD was only observed in few brain loci. On average, participants with ADHD showed significantly reduced gray matter in the cerebellum and hippocampus compared to healthy individuals. While the case-control differences were in line with the literature on ADHD, individuals with ADHD only marginally reflected these group differences.
Case-control comparisons, disguise inter-individual differences in brain biology in individuals with persistent ADHD. The present results show that the ‘average ADHD patient’ has limited informative value, providing the first evidence for the necessity to explore different biological facets of ADHD at the level of the individual and practical means to achieve this end.
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