The IMAGE project: methodological issues for the molecular genetic analysis of ADHD

Behav Brain Funct. 2006 Aug 3;2:27. doi: 10.1186/1744-9081-2-27.


The genetic mechanisms involved in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are being studied with considerable success by several centres worldwide. These studies confirm prior hypotheses about the role of genetic variation within genes involved in the regulation of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin neurotransmission in susceptibility to ADHD. Despite the importance of these findings, uncertainties remain due to the very small effects sizes that are observed. We discuss possible reasons for why the true strength of the associations may have been underestimated in research to date, considering the effects of linkage disequilibrium, allelic heterogeneity, population differences and gene by environment interactions. With the identification of genes associated with ADHD, the goal of ADHD genetics is now shifting from gene discovery towards gene functionality--the study of intermediate phenotypes ('endophenotypes'). We discuss methodological issues relating to quantitative genetic data from twin and family studies on candidate endophenotypes and how such data can inform attempts to link molecular genetic data to cognitive, affective and motivational processes in ADHD. The International Multi-centre ADHD Gene (IMAGE) project exemplifies current collaborative research efforts on the genetics of ADHD. This European multi-site project is well placed to take advantage of the resources that are emerging following the sequencing of the human genome and the development of international resources for whole genome association analysis. As a result of IMAGE and other molecular genetic investigations of ADHD, we envisage a rapid increase in the number of identified genetic variants and the promise of identifying novel gene systems that we are not currently investigating, opening further doors in the study of gene functionality.