Why is there selective subcortical vulnerability in ADHD? Clues from postmortem brain gene expression data

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Abstract

Sub-cortical volumetric differences were associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a recent multi-site, mega-analysis of 1713 ADHD persons and 1529 controls. As there was a wide range of effect sizes among the sub-cortical volumes, it is possible that selective neuronal vulnerability has a role in these volumetric losses. To address this possibility, we used data from Allen Brain Atlas to investigate variability in gene expression profiles between subcortical regions of typically developing brains. We tested the hypothesis that the expression of genes in a set of curated ADHD candidate genes and five a priori selected, biological pathways would be associated with the Enhancing NeuroImaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) findings. Across the subcortical regions studied by ENIGMA, gene expression profiles for three pathways were significantly correlated with ADHD-associated volumetric reductions: apoptosis, oxidative stress and autophagy. These correlations were strong and significant for children with ADHD, but not for adults. Although preliminary, these data suggest that variability of structural brain anomalies in ADHD can be explained, in part, by the differential vulnerability of these regions to mechanisms mediating apoptosis, oxidative stress and autophagy.

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