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Although attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the latest diagnostic manuals, it shows phenotypic and genetic associations of similar magnitudes across neurodevelopmental, externalising and internalising disorders.
To investigate if ADHD is aetiologically more closely related to neurodevelopmental than externalising or internalising disorder clusters, after accounting for a general psychopathology factor.
Full and maternal half-sibling pairs (N = 774 416), born between 1980 and 1995, were identified from the Swedish Medical Birth and Multi-Generation Registers, and ICD diagnoses were obtained from the Swedish National Patient Register. A higher-order confirmatory factor analytic model was fitted to examine associations between ADHD and a general psychopathology factor, as well as a neurodevelopmental, externalising and internalising subfactor. Quantitative genetic modelling was performed to estimate the extent to which genetic, shared and non-shared environmental effects influenced the associations with ADHD.
ADHD was significantly and strongly associated with all three factors (r = 0.67–0.75). However, after controlling for a general psychopathology factor, only the association between ADHD and the neurodevelopmental-specific factor remained moderately strong (r = 0.43, 95% CI = 0.42–0.45) and was almost entirely influenced by genetic effects. In contrast, the association between ADHD and the externalising-specific factor was smaller (r = 0.25, 95% CI = 0.24–0.27), and largely influenced by non-shared environmental effects. There remained no internalising-specific factor after accounting for a general factor.
Findings suggest that ADHD comorbidity is largely explained by genetically influenced general psychopathology, but the strong link between ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders is also substantially driven by unique genetic influences.
Many psychiatric disorders show gender differences in prevalence. Recent studies suggest that female patients diagnosed with anxiety and depression carry more genetic risks related to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared with affected males.
In this register-based study, we aimed to test whether female patients who received clinical diagnoses of anxiety, depressive, bipolar and eating disorders are at higher familial risk for ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, compared with diagnosed male patients.
We analysed data from a record-linkage of several Swedish national registers, including 151 025 sibling pairs from 103 941 unique index individuals diagnosed with anxiety, depressive, bipolar or eating disorders, as well as data from 646 948 cousin pairs. We compared the likelihood of having a relative diagnosed with ADHD/neurodevelopmental disorders in index males and females.
Female patients with anxiety disorders were more likely than affected males to have a brother with ADHD (odd ratio (OR) = 1.13, 95% CI 1.05–1.22). Results for broader neurodevelopmental disorders were similar and were driven by ADHD diagnoses. Follow-up analyses revealed similar point estimates for several categories of anxiety disorders, with the strongest effect observed for agoraphobia (OR = 1.64, 95% CI 1.12–2.39). No significant associations were found in individuals with depressive, bipolar or eating disorders, or in cousins.
These results provide modest support for the possibility that familial/genetic risks for ADHD may show gender-specific phenotypic expression. Alternatively, there could be gender-specific biases in diagnoses of anxiety and ADHD. These factors could play a small role in the observed gender differences in prevalence of ADHD and anxiety.
Traits of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are strongly associated in children and adolescents, largely due to genetic factors. Less is known about the phenotypic and aetiological overlap between ADHD and ASD traits in adults.
We studied 6866 individuals aged 20–28 years from the Swedish Study of Young Adult Twins. Inattention (IA) and hyperactivity/impulsivity (HI) were assessed using the WHO Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale-V1.1. Repetitive and restricted behaviours (RRB) and social interaction and communication (SIC) were assessed using the Autism-Tics, ADHD, and other Comorbidities inventory. We used structural equation modelling to decompose covariance between these ADHD and ASD trait dimensions into genetic and shared/non-shared environmental components.
At the phenotypic level, IA was similarly correlated with RRB (r = 0.33; 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.31–0.36) and with SIC (r = 0.32; 95% CI 0.29–0.34), whereas HI was more strongly associated with RRB (r = 0.38; 95% CI 0.35–0.40) than with SIC (r = 0.24; 95% CI 0.21–0.26). Genetic and non-shared environmental effects accounted for similar proportions of the phenotypic correlations, whereas shared environmental effects were of minimal importance. The highest genetic correlation was between HI and RRB (r = 0.56; 95% 0.46–0.65), and the lowest was between HI and SIC (r = 0.33; 95% CI 0.23–0.43).
We found evidence for dimension-specific phenotypic and aetiological overlap between ADHD and ASD traits in adults. Future studies investigating mechanisms underlying comorbidity between ADHD and ASD may benefit from exploring several symptom-dimensions, rather than considering only broad diagnostic categories.
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