Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ADHD gene SLC6A4 favors males over females

In our last post, which asked the question "Are ADHD genes Gender Dependent?" we introduced four genes believed to be associated with the disorder of ADHD:

In the next four posts, we will investigate each of the 4 ADHD genes listed above.

SLC6A4 gene, gender effects, and ADHD:

Out of the four genes listed above, the SLC6A4 gene has the least gender-based effects. The authors of the original paper on gender effects of four genes actually concluded that the gender specific influence of SLCA4 gene was not statistically significant. Nevertheless, the authors briefly noted that there was a greater influence on males than females for this particular gene (in the summarizing abstract portion of the paper).

The particular region of investigation on the SLC6A4 gene, which is located on the 17th human chromosome, was at a specific marker rs2066713 (If you are not familiar with this terminology, this is not important, it is just a way of citing a specific region of DNA and can be used to pinpoint a more exact location on a gene for studies on genetic variations, mutations, etc.). According to the study, at this specific marker on the SLC6A4 gene there was a higher likelihood that ADHD boys would receive the DNA base thymine ("T" for short) at this particular location than did ADHD females. This suggests that this "T" form (or "allele", which is a particular form or variation of a gene) at this particular spot on the 17th human chromosome which contains the SLC6A4 gene is more likely to be passed on to males with ADHD than females with ADHD. In other words, this "T" form of the SLC6A4 gene may be more associated with ADHD in males than in females. Of course, we must reiterate, that although a gender difference was observed, it was not sharp enough to be considered statistically significant, according to the original study.

Some other thoughts about the SLC6A4 gene and potential relevance to ADHD symptoms and behaviors:

  • The SLC6A4 gene is often referred to by other more common names: the serotonin transporter gene (also abbreviated as 5-HTT, Serotonin Transporter, and SERT) is believed to be associated with a number of depression-related mechanisms. Interestingly, the link between the serotonin transporter gene and depression may also be susceptible to stress and other environmental factors. This gene is responsible for coding for and ultimately producing a serotonin transporter protein, which is frequently implicated in depression-related illnesses and is the target of antidepressant medications, such as Paroxetine (Paxil), Imipramine (Tofranil) and Fluoxetine (Prozac). In addition, the products of the SLC6A4 gene are also affected by amphetamines, which among some of the most common types of ADHD stimulant medications. In other words, the different forms of this SLC6A4 gene may actually play a role as to how an individual acts to a particular antidepressant or amphetamine medication. Again, keep in mind that there is often a fair amount of overlap of depression with ADHD (some experts argue that a "Depressive" form of ADHD should actually warrant its own ADHD subtype), so it is possible that gender based differences in this gene may be related to this hypothetical subtype in particular.

  • However, other evidence suggests that the SLC6A4 gene may not be exclusively labeled as a "depressive gene". A study done on multiple genes believed to affect aggression and impulsivity (the latter being a common trademark of ADHD, while the former is occasionally seen extreme cases, although much more rarely, and typically only in the presence of additional comorbid disorders to ADHD), and found a nominal association between this SLC6A4 gene and cognitive impulsivity. Cognitive impulsivity, in essence, is associated with an individual making hasty decisions without carefully considering the consequences of one's actions, which frequently leads to negative or even dangerous outcomes. Not surprisingly, this is seen at much higher rates in ADHD individuals. Similar features are seen in ADHD individuals who have underactive functioning in the right frontal lobe region of the brain (a diagram of this region is given in an earlier blog post on differences in ADHD kids' brain regions), as well as those who have low tryptophan levels (which often correlates with depression and depression-like symptoms).

  • Finally, studies have linked variations in this serotonin transporter gene to bipolar disorders. This is also of interest because ADHD and bipolar disorders can occur together frequently and can sometimes be difficult to differentiate, especially at the pediatric level.

In the next few posts, we will be investigating three other ADHD genes believed to have gender-specific effects, which each have a potentially greater sex-related differences than this SLC6A4 gene.