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Background: Shared genetic influences between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms have been reported. Cross-trait genetic relationships are, however, subject to dynamic changes during development. We investigated the continuity of genetic overlap between ASD and ADHD symptoms in a general population sample during childhood and adolescence. We also studied uni- and cross-dimensional trait-disorder links with respect to genetic ADHD and ASD risk. Methods: Social-communication difficulties (N ≤ 5551, Social and Communication Disorders Checklist, SCDC) and combined hyperactive-impulsive/inattentive ADHD symptoms (N ≤ 5678, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, SDQ-ADHD) were repeatedly measured in a UK birth cohort (ALSPAC, age 7 to 17 years). Genome-wide summary statistics on clinical ASD (5305 cases; 5305 pseudo-controls) and ADHD (4163 cases; 12,040 controls/pseudo-controls) were available from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Genetic trait variances and genetic overlap between phenotypes were estimated using genome-wide data. Results: In the general population, genetic influences for SCDC and SDQ-ADHD scores were shared throughout development. Genetic correlations across traits reached a similar strength and magnitude (cross-trait r g ≤ 1, p min = 3 × 10−4) as those between repeated measures of the same trait (within-trait r g ≤ 0.94, p min = 7 × 10−4). Shared genetic influences between traits, especially during later adolescence, may implicate variants in K-RAS signalling upregulated genes (p-meta = 6.4 × 10−4). Uni-dimensionally, each population-based trait mapped to the expected behavioural continuum: risk-increasing alleles for clinical ADHD were persistently associated with SDQ-ADHD scores throughout development (marginal regression R 2 = 0.084%). An age-specific genetic overlap between clinical ASD and social-communication difficulties during childhood was also shown, as per previous reports. Cross-dimensionally, however, neither SCDC nor SDQ-ADHD scores were linked to genetic risk for disorder. Conclusions: In the general population, genetic aetiologies between social-communication difficulties and ADHD symptoms are shared throughout child and adolescent development and may implicate similar biological pathways that co-vary during development. Within both the ASD and the ADHD dimension, population-based traits are also linked to clinical disorder, although much larger clinical discovery samples are required to reliably detect cross-dimensional trait-disorder relationships.
- Social communication
- ADHD symptoms
- Clinical ADHD
- Genetic overlap
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- Bristol Poverty Institute
- Bristol Population Health Science Institute
- MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit
- Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research
- Bristol Medical School (PHS) - Professor of Clinical Epidemiology
Person: Academic , Member, Group lead