Contribution of Intellectual Disability-Related Genes to ADHD Risk and to Locomotor Activity in Drosophila

Am J Psychiatry. 2020 Jun 1;177(6):526-536. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.18050599. Epub 2020 Feb 12.


Objective: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common, highly heritable neuropsychiatric disorder. ADHD often co-occurs with intellectual disability, and shared overlapping genetics have been suggested. The aim of this study was to identify novel ADHD genes by investigating whether genes carrying rare mutations linked to intellectual disability contribute to ADHD risk through common genetic variants. Validation and characterization of candidates were performed using Drosophila melanogaster.

Methods: Common genetic variants in a diagnostic gene panel of 396 autosomal intellectual disability genes were tested for association with ADHD risk through gene set and gene-wide analyses, using ADHD meta-analytic data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium for discovery (N=19,210) and ADHD data from the Lundbeck Foundation Initiative for Integrative Psychiatric Research for replication (N=37,076). The significant genes were functionally validated and characterized in Drosophila by assessing locomotor activity and sleep upon knockdown of those genes in brain circuits.

Results: The intellectual disability gene set was significantly associated with ADHD risk in the discovery and replication data sets. The three genes most consistently associated were MEF2C, ST3GAL3, and TRAPPC9. Performing functional characterization of the two evolutionarily conserved genes in Drosophila melanogaster, the authors found that their knockdown in dopaminergic (dMEF2) and circadian neurons (dTRAPPC9) resulted in increased locomotor activity and reduced sleep, concordant with the human phenotype.

Conclusions: This study reveals that a large set of intellectual disability-related genes contribute to ADHD risk through effects of common alleles. Utilizing this continuity, the authors identified TRAPPC9, MEF2C, and ST3GAL3 as novel ADHD candidate genes. Characterization in Drosophila suggests that TRAPPC9 and MEF2C contribute to ADHD-related behavior through distinct neural substrates.

Keywords: ADHD; Drosophila melanogaster; Genetics; Intellectual Disability; MEF2C; TRAPPC9.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / genetics
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics*
  • Locomotion / genetics*
  • MEF2 Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myogenic Regulatory Factors / genetics*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Sialyltransferases / genetics*
  • Sleep / genetics


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • MEF2 Transcription Factors
  • MEF2C protein, human
  • Mef2 protein, Drosophila
  • Myogenic Regulatory Factors
  • TRAPPC9 protein, human
  • brun protein, Drosophila
  • ST3GAL3 protein, human
  • Sialyltransferases