Differential susceptibility to maternal expressed emotion in children with ADHD and their siblings? Investigating plasticity genes, prosocial and antisocial behaviour

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 Feb;24(2):209-17. doi: 10.1007/s00787-014-0567-2. Epub 2014 Jun 15.


The differential susceptibility theory states that children differ in their susceptibility towards environmental experiences, partially due to plasticity genes. Individuals carrying specific variants in such genes will be more disadvantaged in negative but, conversely, more advantaged in positive environments. Understanding gene-environment interactions may help unravel the causal mechanisms involved in multifactorial psychiatric disorders such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The differential susceptibility theory was examined by investigating the presence of interaction effects between maternal expressed emotion (EE; warmth and criticism) and the solitary and combined effects of plasticity genes (DAT1, DRD4, 5-HTT) on prosocial and antisocial behaviour (measured with parent- and self-reports) in children with ADHD and their siblings (N = 366, M = 17.11 years, 74.9% male). Maternal warmth was positively associated with prosocial behaviour and negatively with antisocial behaviour, while maternal criticism was positively associated with antisocial behaviour and negatively with prosocial behaviour. No evidence of differential susceptibility was found. The current study found no evidence for differential susceptibility based on the selected plasticity genes, in spite of strong EE-behaviour associations. It is likely that additional factors play a role in the complex relationship between genes, environment and behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / genetics*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / complications
  • Child Behavior Disorders / genetics
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Expressed Emotion*
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / genetics*
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Siblings / psychology*
  • Social Environment


  • DRD4 protein, human
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • SLC6A3 protein, human
  • SLC6A4 protein, human
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4