IS GENETICS BEHIND THE CO-OCCURRENCE OF ADHD AND OTHER DISORDERS?

A group of researchers from Spain, The Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Denmark and USA have joined efforts to gain insight into the genetics of ADHD and its comorbidities. This ambitious objective was addressed by the Work Package 2 of a big project called CoCA: “Comorbid Conditions of Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)”, funded by the European Union for the period 2016-2021.

In psychiatry, the co-occurrence of different conditions in the same individual (or comorbidity) is the rule rather than the exception. This is particularly true for ADHD, where conditions like major depressive disorder or substance use disorders frequently add to the primary diagnosis and lead to a worse trajectory across the lifespan.

There are different reasons that may explain the advent of the comorbidities: Sometimes the two conditions have independent origins but coincide in a single patient. Comorbidity can also appear as a consequence of a feature of a primary disorder that leads to a secondary disorder. For example, impulsivity, a trait that is common in ADHD, can be an entry point to substance use. Comorbidity can also be the result of shared genetic causes. The latter has been the focus of our investigations and it involves certain risk genes that act on different pathologies, a phenomenon called pleiotropy.

Our project started with an approach based on the exploration of candidate genes, particularly those involved in neurotransmission (i.e. the connectivity between neurons) and also in the regulation of the circadian rhythm. We used genetic data of more than 160,000 patients with any of eight psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, and identified a set of neurotransmission genes that are involved at the same time in ADHD and in autism spectrum disorder [1]. In another study we identified the same gene set as involved in obesity measures [2].

Then we opened our analyses to genome-wide approaches, i.e. to the interrogation of every single gene in the genome. To do that we used different statistical methods, including the estimation of the overall shared genetics between pairs of disorders (genetic correlation, rg), the prediction of a condition based on the genetic risk factors for another condition (polygenic risk score analysis, PRS) and the establishment of the causal relationships between disorders (mendelian randomization). As a result, we encountered genetic connections between ADHD and several psychiatric disorders, like cannabis or cocaine use disorders [3, 4, 5], alcohol or smoking-related phenotypes [6, 7, 8], bipolar disorder [9], depression [6], disruptive behavior disorder [10], but also with personality or cognition traits, like neuroticism, risk taking, emotional lability, aggressive behavior or educational attainment [6 , 11, 12, 13], or with somatic conditions, such as obesity [11, 12].

All these results and others, reported in more than 40 (!) scientific publications, support our initial hypothesis that certain genetic factors cut across psychiatric disorders and explain, at least in part, the comorbidity that we observe between ADHD and many other conditions. This information can be very useful to anticipate possible clinical trajectories in ADHD patients, and hence prevent potential negative outcomes.

Dr. Bru Cormand is full professor of genetics and head of the department of Genetics, Microbiology & Statistics at the University of Barcelona. He leads workpackage 2 of the CoCA project (www.coca-project.eu) on the genetics of ADHD comorbidity.


References

  1. Comprehensive exploration of the genetic contribution of the dopaminergic and serotonergic pathways to psychiatric disorders | medRxiv
  2. Cross-disorder genetic analyses implicate dopaminergic signaling as a biological link between Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and obesity measures – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and lifetime cannabis use: genetic overlap and causality – PubMed (nih.gov)
  4. Genome-wide association study implicates CHRNA2 in cannabis use disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Genome-wide association meta-analysis of cocaine dependence: Shared genetics with comorbid conditions – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Association of Polygenic Risk for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder With Co-occurring Traits and Disorders – PubMed (nih.gov)
  7. Investigating causality between liability to ADHD and substance use, and liability to substance use and ADHD risk, using Mendelian randomization – PubMed (nih.gov)
  8. Genetic liability to ADHD and substance use disorders in individuals with ADHD – PubMed (nih.gov)
  9. Genetic Overlap Between Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Bipolar Disorder: Evidence From Genome-wide Association Study Meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. Risk variants and polygenic architecture of disruptive behavior disorders in the context of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
  11. Discovery of the first genome-wide significant risk loci for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Shared genetic background between children and adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder – PubMed (nih.gov)
  13. RBFOX1, encoding a splicing regulator, is a candidate gene for aggressive behavior – PubMed (nih.gov)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s