Department of Economics and Business Economics

Disentangling polygenic associations between attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, educational attainment, literacy and language

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  • Ellen Verhoef, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, Netherlands
  • Ditte Demontis
  • Stephen Burgess, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Chin Yang Shapland, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands
  • Philip S Dale, University of New Mexico, United States
  • Aysu Okbay, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • Benjamin M Neale, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, United States
  • Stephen V Faraone, SUNY Upstate Medical University, United States
  • iPSYCH-Broad-PGC ADHD Consortium
  • ,
  • Søren Dalsgaard (Member of author collaboration)

Interpreting polygenic overlap between ADHD and both literacy-related and language-related impairments is challenging as genetic associations might be influenced by indirectly shared genetic factors. Here, we investigate genetic overlap between polygenic ADHD risk and multiple literacy-related and/or language-related abilities (LRAs), as assessed in UK children (N ≤ 5919), accounting for genetically predictable educational attainment (EA). Genome-wide summary statistics on clinical ADHD and years of schooling were obtained from large consortia (N ≤ 326,041). Our findings show that ADHD-polygenic scores (ADHD-PGS) were inversely associated with LRAs in ALSPAC, most consistently with reading-related abilities, and explained ≤1.6% phenotypic variation. These polygenic links were then dissected into both ADHD effects shared with and independent of EA, using multivariable regressions (MVR). Conditional on EA, polygenic ADHD risk remained associated with multiple reading and/or spelling abilities, phonemic awareness and verbal intelligence, but not listening comprehension and non-word repetition. Using conservative ADHD-instruments (P-threshold < 5 × 10-8), this corresponded, for example, to a 0.35 SD decrease in pooled reading performance per log-odds in ADHD-liability (P = 9.2 × 10-5). Using subthreshold ADHD-instruments (P-threshold < 0.0015), these effects became smaller, with a 0.03 SD decrease per log-odds in ADHD risk (P = 1.4 × 10-6), although the predictive accuracy increased. However, polygenic ADHD-effects shared with EA were of equal strength and at least equal magnitude compared to those independent of EA, for all LRAs studied, and detectable using subthreshold instruments. Thus, ADHD-related polygenic links with LRAs are to a large extent due to shared genetic effects with EA, although there is evidence for an ADHD-specific association profile, independent of EA, that primarily involves literacy-related impairments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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