Autism Spectrum Disorder And ADHD Share Genetic Similarities

Those who grow up with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD often have overlapping symptoms — turns out, that’s no coincidence. The two behavioral disorders result from the same mutations to identical genes. They have more in common than scientists once thought. The study was recently published in Nature Neuroscience and sheds light on common misconceptions surrounding the two disorders.

The paper reads, “The study shows that many more genes for ADHD and autism can be identified directly by studying more people in a similar way with extensive DNA sequencing, thereby providing a more complete picture of the biological causal mechanisms and possible approaches to medical treatment. 

Researchers from Aarhus University, Copenhagen University, and the Lundbeck Foundation shared their results to discover genetic similarities found in the exome sequences of around 8,000 kids who were already diagnosed with ADHD or autism spectrum disorder. An additional control group of 5,000 kids without either behavioral disorder was used to reinforce the results.

Lead Researcher Anders Borglum said, “In the study, the gene that is most frequently affected by mutations in people with ADHD or autism is the so-called MAP1A gene. The gene is involved in the formation of the physical structure of nerve cells — their inner ‘skeleton,’ so to speak — and is important for the development of the brain.”

He continued, “We discovered an increased burden of mutations that destroy or severely affect the MAP1A gene in those with ADHD and autism, while very few of the control subject had changes in the gene.”

Studies like Borglum’s are much more common now that the human genome is so easily and cheaply mapped — something that was impossible only ten or twenty years ago. The massive amounts of human knowledge accumulated because of these new studies is overwhelming.

This study, for example, represents the first to include genome mapping and DNA analysis of both behavioral conditions at once.

Borglum said, “The very fact that mutations are found to the same extent and in the same genes in children with autism and in children with ADHD, points towards the same biological mechanisms being involved. This is the first time that the genome has been mapped so comprehensively for both ADHD and autism, and the discovery that children with ADHD have the same amount of deleterious gene mutations in their DNA as children with autism is both striking and quite surprising.”

This is progress, and could change how we communicate effectively with our kids — in addition to how we effectively educate their parents.