BBC News – New study claims ADHD ‘has a genetic link&#039

29 September 2010
Last updated at 19:01 ET

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New study claims ADHD ‘has a genetic link’

By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News


Children affected by ADHD may be restless and impulsive

The first direct evidence of a genetic link to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has been found, a study says.

Scientists from Cardiff University, writing in The Lancet, said the disorder was a brain problem like autism – not due to bad parenting.

They analysed stretches of DNA from 366 children who had been diagnosed with the disorder.

But one clinical psychologist argued that what happened in children’s early years was more crucial than genetics.

At least 2% of children in the UK are thought to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Affected children are restless and impulsive. They may also have destructive tendencies, and experience serious problems at school and within family life.

The researchers compared genetic samples from ADHD children, with DNA from 1,047 people without the condition.

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There’s a lot of public misunderstanding about ADHD”

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Prof Anita Thapar
Cardiff University

They found that 15% of the ADHD group had large and rare variations in their DNA – compared with 7% in the control group.

Professor Anita Thapar said: “We found that, compared with the control group, the children with ADHD have a much higher rate of chunks of DNA that are either duplicated or missing.

“This is really exciting – because it gives us the first direct genetic link to ADHD.

“We have looked at lots of potential risk factors in the environment – such as parenting or what happens before birth – but there isn’t the evidence to say they’re linked to ADHD.

“There’s a lot of public misunderstanding about ADHD. Some people say it’s not a real disorder, or that it’s the result of bad parenting.

“Finding this direct link should address the issue of stigma.”

The researchers stressed that there is no single gene behind ADHD, and the work is at too early a stage to lead to any test for the disorder.

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Genes hardly explain at all why some kids have ADHD and not others”

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Oliver James
Clinical child psychologist and broadcaster

But they hope the study will help unravel the biological basis of ADHD. This could eventually lead to new treatments.

The work was largely funded by the Wellcome Trust, with extra support from the Medical Research Council.

The chief executive of a charity and support group ADDIS, Andrea Bilbow, said: “We are very excited. We’ve always known there was a genetic link – through studies and anecdotally.

“This paper will help us deal more confidently with the sceptics, who are always so eager to blame parents or teachers. It shows there is a definite genetic anomaly in children with ADHD.”

But the study has been criticised by the clinical child psychologist and broadcaster, Oliver James.

He cited studies which looked at the effect of anxiety among pregnant women, and disturbed early relations between mothers and their babies.

He said: “Only 57 out of the 366 children with ADHD had the genetic variant supposed to be a cause of the illness.

“That would suggest that other factors are the main cause in the vast majority of cases.

“Genes hardly explain at all why some kids have ADHD and not others.”

Do you have experience of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder? Do you have a child with ADHD? Send your comments using the post form below:


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