Background There are very few studies investigating possible links between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Alzheimer’s disease and these have been limited by small sample sizes, diagnostic and recall bias. However, neurocognitive deficits affecting educational attainment in individuals with ADHD could be risk factors for Alzheimer’s later in life while hyper plasticity of the brain in ASD and strong positive genetic correlations of ASD with IQ and educational attainment could be protective against Alzheimer’s.

Methods We estimated the bidirectional total causal effects of genetic liability to ADHD and ASD on Alzheimer’s disease through two-sample Mendelian randomization. We investigated their direct effects, independent of educational attainment and IQ, through Multivariable Mendelian randomization.

Results There was limited evidence to suggest that genetic liability to ADHD (OR=1.00, 95% CI: 0.98 to 1.02, p=0.39) or ASD (OR=0.99, 95% CI: 0.97 to 1.01, p=0.70) was associated with risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Similar causal effect estimates were identified when the direct effects, independent of educational attainment (ADHD: OR=1.00, 95% CI: 0.99 to 1.01, p=0.07; ASD: OR=0.99, 95% CI: 0.98 to 1.00, p=0.28) and IQ (ADHD: OR=1.00, 95% CI: 0.99 to 1.02. p=0.29; ASD: OR=0.99, 95% CI: 0.98 to 1.01, p=0.99), were assessed. Finally, genetic liability to Alzheimer’s disease was not found to have a causal effect on risk of ADHD or ASD (ADHD: OR=1.12, 95% CI: 0.86 to 1.44, p=0.37; ASD: OR=1.19, 95% CI: 0.94 to 1.51, p=0.14).

Conclusions In the first study to date investigating the causal associations between genetic liability to ADHD, ASD and Alzheimer’s, within an MR framework, we found limited evidence to suggest a causal effect. It is important to encourage future research using ADHD and ASD specific subtype data, as well as longitudinal data in order to further elucidate any associations between these conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 17 Apr 2020


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