The dopamine transporter gene, DAT1 (SLC6A3), has been studied extensively as a candidate gene for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Different alleles of variable number of tandem repeats (VNTRs) in this gene have been associated with childhood ADHD (10/10 genotype and haplotype 10-6) and adult ADHD (haplotype 9-6). This suggests a differential association depending on age, and a role of DAT1 in modulating the ADHD phenotype over the lifespan. The DAT1 gene may mediate susceptibility to ADHD through effects on striatal volumes, where it is most highly expressed. In an attempt to clarify its mode of action, we examined the effect of three DAT1 alleles (10/10 genotype, and the haplotypes 10-6 and 9-6) on bilateral striatal volumes (nucleus accumbens, caudate nucleus, and putamen) derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging scans using automated tissue segmentation. Analyses were performed separately in three cohorts with cross-sectional MRI data, a childhood/adolescent sample (NeuroIMAGE, 301 patients with ADHD and 186 healthy participants) and two adult samples (IMpACT, 118 patients with ADHD and 111 healthy participants; BIG, 1718 healthy participants). Regression analyses revealed that in the IMpACT cohort, and not in the other cohorts, carriers of the DAT1 adult ADHD risk haplotype 9-6 had 5.9 % larger striatum volume relative to participants not carrying this haplotype. This effect varied by diagnostic status, with the risk haplotype affecting striatal volumes only in patients with ADHD. An explorative analysis in the cohorts combined (N = 2434) showed a significant gene-by-diagnosis-by-age interaction suggesting that carriership of the 9-6 haplotype predisposes to a slower age-related decay of striatal volume specific to the patient group. This study emphasizes the need of a lifespan approach in genetic studies of ADHD.
Keywords: ADHD; DAT1 gene; Striatum; Volumetry.