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The contribution of common genetic risk variants for ADHD to a general factor of childhood psychopathology

By Isabell Brikell, Henrik Larsson, Yi Lu, Erik Pettersson, Qi Chen, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Robert Karlsson, Benjamin B. Lahey, Paul Lichtenstein, Joanna Martin

Posted 26 Sep 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/193573 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41380-018-0109-2)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a heritable neurodevelopmental disorder, with common genetic risk variants implicated in the clinical diagnosis and symptoms of ADHD. However, given evidence of comorbidity and genetic overlap across neurodevelopmental and externalizing conditions, it remains unclear whether these genetic risk variants are ADHD-specific. The aim of this study was to evaluate the associations between ADHD genetic risks and related neurodevelopmental and externalizing conditions, and to quantify the extent to which any such associations can be attributed to a general genetic liability towards psychopathology. We derived ADHD polygenic risk scores (PRS) for 13,460 children aged 9 and 12 years from the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden, using results from an independent meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies of ADHD diagnosis and symptoms. Associations between ADHD PRS, a latent general psychopathology factor, and six latent neurodevelopmental and externalizing factors were estimated using structural equation modelling. ADHD PRS were statistically significantly associated with elevated levels of inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, autistic traits, learning difficulties, oppositional-defiant, and conduct problems (standardized regression coefficients=0.07-0.12). Only the association with specific hyperactivity/impulsivity remained significant after accounting for a general psychopathology factor, on which all symptoms loaded positively (standardized mean loading=0.61, range=0.32-0.91). ADHD PRS simultaneously explained 1% (p-value<0.001) of the variance in the general psychopathology factor and 0.50% (p-value<0.001) in the specific hyperactivity/impulsivity factor. Our results suggest that common genetic risk variants associated with ADHD have largely general pleiotropic effects on neurodevelopmental and externalizing traits in the general population, in addition to a specific association with hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms.

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