New Study Focuses on Link Between Gene Variants and Emotional Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Kenneth Gadow, PhD

May 6, 2014 – Professor Kenneth Gadow, PhD and colleagues identified several significant associations between gene variants related to dopamine and symptoms of emotional problems in children with autism spectrum disorder. Their findings will help guide future research into the possible genetic origins of psychiatric symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Many children with autism spectrum disorder experience life-altering symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger and irritability (known collectively as emotion dysregulation) as well as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but little is known about the biological mechanisms that underlie these phenomena. Building on earlier studies demonstrating dopamine’s involvement in emotion dysregulation and ADHD, and recent studies of gene variants in the dopaminergic system, Dr. Gadow and his colleagues asked whether specific variants may be involved in the development of emotional dysregulation and ADHD in children with autism spectrum disorder.

Analyzing the results of studies of 110 children, they found links between each of the three genetic variants they examined and one or more measures of emotion dysregulation or ADHD. They cautioned, however, that the results of their study, while consistent with previous studies of children without autism spectrum disorder, should be taken as guides to future research not as confirmation of the hypothesis that genetic variations associated with dopamine influence the severity of emotional disorders in children with autism spectrum disorder. This, they said, must wait for replication in studies with larger, independent samples.

The article, titled “Association of dopamine variants, emotion dysregulation and ADHD in autism spectrum disorder,” was published in the April 1, 2014 issue of Research in Developmental Disabilities.