March 16, 2024

Swedish Countrywide Sibling Population Study Finds Co-occurrence of ADHD with Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders is Largely Due to Genetics

A Swedish-Danish-Dutch team used the Swedish Medical Birth Register to identify the almost 1.7 million individuals born in the country between 1980 and 1995. Then, using the Multi-Generation Register, they identified 341,066 pairs of full siblings and 46,142 pairs of maternal half-siblings, totaling 774,416 individuals.

The team used the National Patient Register to identify diagnoses of ADHD, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders (autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, intellectual disability, motor disorders), externalizing psychiatric disorders (oppositional defiant and related disorders, alcohol misuse, drug misuse), and internalizing psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety disorder, phobias, stress disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder).

The team found that ADHD was strongly correlated with general psychopathology overall (r =0.67), as well as with the neurodevelopmental (r = 0.75), externalizing (r =0.67), and internalizing (r = 0.67) sub factors.

To tease out the effects of heredity, shared environment, and non-shared environment, a multivariate correlation model was used. Genetic variables were estimated by fixing them to correlate between siblings at their expected average gene sharing (0.5for full siblings, 0.25 for half-siblings). Non-genetic environmental components shared by siblings (such as growing up in the same family) were estimated by fixing them to correlate at 1 across full and half-siblings. Finally, non-shared environmental variables were estimated by fixing them to correlate at zero across all siblings.

This model estimated the heritability of the general psychopathology factor at 49%, with the contribution of the shared environment at 7 percent and the non-shared environment at 44%. After adjusting for the general psychopathology factor, ADHD showed a significant and moderately strong phenotypic correlation with the neurodevelopmental-specific factor (r = 0.43), and a significantly smaller correlation with the externalizing-specific factor (r = 0.25).

For phenotypic correlation between ADHD and the general psychopathology factor, genetics explained 52% of the total correlation, the non-shared environment 39%, and the shared familial environment only 9%. For the phenotypic correlation between ADHD and the neurodevelopmental-specific factor, genetics explained the entire correlation because the other two factors had competing effects that canceled each other out. For the phenotypic correlation between ADHD and the externalizing-specific factor, genetics explained 23% of the correlation, shared environment 22%, and non-shared environment 55%.

The authors concluded that "ADHD is more phenotypically and genetically linked to neurodevelopmental disorders than to externalizing and internalizing disorders, after accounting for a general psychopathology factor. ... After accounting for the general psychopathology factor, the correlation between ADHD and the neurodevelopmental-specific factor remained moderately strong, and was largely genetic in origin, suggesting substantial unique sharing of biological mechanisms among disorders. In contrast, the correlation between ADHD and the externalizing-specific factor was much smaller and was largely explained by-shared environmental effects. Lastly, the correlation between ADHD and the internalizing subfactor was almost entirely explained by the general psychopathology factor. This finding suggests that the comorbidity of ADHD and internalizing disorders are largely due to shared genetic effects and non-shared environmental influences that have effects on general psychopathology."

Ebba Du Rietz, Erik Pettersson, Isabell Brickell, LauraGhirardi, Qi Chen, Catharina Hartman, Paul Lichtenstein, Henrik Larsson, and Ralf Kuja-Halkola, "Overlap between attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and neurodevelopmental, externalizing and internalizing disorders: separating unique from general psychopathology effects," British Journal of Psychiatry (2020),

Related posts

No items found.

Using Video Analysis and Machine Learning in ADHD Diagnosis

NEWS TUESDAY: Machine Learning and The Possible Future of Diagnosing ADHD

Typically, clinicians rely on both subjective and objective observations, patient interviews and questionnaires, as well as reports from family and (in the case of children) parents and teachers, in order to diagnose ADHD. 

A group of researchers are aiming to find a diagnostic test that is purely objective and utilizes recent technological advancements. The method they developed involves analyzing videos of children in outpatient settings, focusing on their movements. The study included 96 children, half of whom had ADHD and half who did not.

How It Works

  1. Video Recording: Children were recorded during their outpatient visits.
  2. Skeleton Detection: Using a tool called OpenPose, the researchers detected and tracked the children's skeletons (essentially a map of their body's movements) in the videos.
  3. Movement Analysis: The researchers analyzed these movements, looking at 11 different movement features. They specifically focused on the angles of different body parts and how much they moved.
  4. Machine Learning: Six different machine learning models were used to see which movement features could best distinguish between children with ADHD and those without.

Key Findings

  • Movement Differences: Children with ADHD showed significantly more movement in all the features analyzed compared to children without ADHD.
  • Thigh Angle: The angle of the thigh was the most telling feature. On average, children with ADHD had a thigh angle of about 157.89 degrees, while those without ADHD had an angle of 15.37 degrees.
  • High Accuracy: Using thigh angle alone, the model could diagnose ADHD with 91.03% accuracy. It was very sensitive (90.25%) and specific (91.86%), meaning it correctly identified most children with ADHD and correctly recognized most children without it.

This new method could potentially provide a more objective way to diagnose ADHD, reducing the reliance on subjective observations and reports. It can help doctors make more accurate diagnoses, ensuring that those who need help get it and that those who don't aren't misdiagnosed.

May 28, 2024

Understanding Attention to Social Images in Children with ADHD and Autism

NEWS TUESDAY: Understanding Attention to Social Images in Children with ADHD and Autism

In the field of mental health, professionals often use a variety of tools to diagnose and understand neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One such tool is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), which is specifically designed to help diagnose autism. However, the ADOS wasn't originally intended for children who have both autism and ADHD, though this comorbidity is not uncommon.

A recent study aimed to explore how children with ADHD, autism, or both, pay attention to social images, such as faces. The study focused on using eye-tracking technology to measure where children direct their gaze when viewing pictures, and how long they look at certain parts of the image. This is important because differences in visual attention can provide insights into the nature of these disorders.

The researchers included 84 children in their study, categorized into four groups: those with ASD, those with ADHD, those with both ASD and ADHD, and neurotypical (NT) children without these conditions. During the study, children were shown social scenes from the ADOS, and their eye movements were recorded. The ADOS assessment was administered afterward. To ensure that the results were not influenced by medications, children who were on stimulant medications for ADHD were asked to pause their medication temporarily.

The results of the study showed that children with ASD, whether they also had ADHD or not, tended to spend less time looking at faces compared to children with just ADHD or NT children. The severity of autism symptoms, measured by the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), was associated with reduced attention to faces. Interestingly, ADHD symptom severity, measured by Conners' Rating Scales (CRS-3), did not correlate with how children looked at faces.

These findings suggest that measuring visual attention might be a valuable addition to the assessment process for ASD, especially in cases where ADHD is also present. The study indicates that if a child with ADHD shows reduced attention to faces, it might point to additional challenges related to autism. The researchers noted that more studies with larger groups of children are needed to confirm these findings, but the results are promising. They hope that such measures could eventually enhance diagnostic processes and help in managing the complexities of cases involving comorbidity of ADHD and ASD.

This research opens up the possibility of using eye-tracking as a supplementary diagnostic tool in the assessment of autism, providing a more nuanced understanding of how attentional differences in social settings are linked to ASD and ADHD.

May 14, 2024

NEW STUDY: RASopathies Influences on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

NEW STUDY: RASopathies Influences on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

This study investigates how certain genetic disorders, called RASopathies, affect the structure of the brain in children. RASopathies are conditions caused by mutations in a specific signaling pathway in the body. Two common RASopathies are Noonan syndrome (NS) and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), both of which are linked to a higher risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers analyzed brain scans of children with RASopathies (91 participants) and compared them to typically developing children (74 participants). They focused on three aspects of brain structure: surface area (SA), cortical thickness (CT), and subcortical volumes.

The results showed that children with RASopathies had both similarities and differences in their brain structure compared to typically developing children. They had increased SA in certain areas of the brain, like the precentral gyrus, but decreased SA in other regions, such as the occipital regions. Additionally, they had thinner CT in the precentral gyrus. However, the effects on subcortical volumes varied between the two RASopathies: children with NS had decreased volumes in certain structures like the striatum and thalamus, while children with NF1 had increased volumes in areas like the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus.

Overall, this study highlights how RASopathies can impact the development of the brain in children. The shared effects on SA and CT suggest a common influence of RASopathies on brain development, which could be important for developing targeted treatments in the future.

In summary, understanding how these genetic disorders affect the brain's structure can help researchers and healthcare professionals develop better treatments for affected children.

April 30, 2024