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Is genetic liability to ADHD and ASD causally linked to educational attainment?

Dardani, Christina, Riglin, Lucy, Leppert, Beate, Sanderson, Eleanor, Rai, Dheeraj, Howe, Laura, Davey Smith, George, Tilling, Kate, Thapar, Anita, Davies, Neil, Anderson, Emma and Stergiakouli, Evie 2021. Is genetic liability to ADHD and ASD causally linked to educational attainment? International Journal of Epidemiology 50 (6) , pp. 2011-2023. 10.1093/ije/dyab107

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Background The association patterns of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with educational attainment (EA) are complex; children with ADHD and ASD are at risk of poor academic outcomes, and parental EA has been associated with risk of ADHD/ASD in the offspring. Little is known on the causal links between ADHD, ASD, EA and the potential contribution of cognitive ability. Methods Using the latest genome-wide association studies (GWAS) summary data on ADHD, ASD and EA, we applied two-sample Mendelian randomization (MR) to assess the effects of genetic liability to ADHD and ASD on EA. Reverse direction analyses were additionally performed. Multivariable MR was performed to estimate any effects independent of cognitive ability. Results Genetic liability to ADHD had a negative effect on EA, independently of cognitive ability (MVMRIVW: -1.7 months of education per doubling of genetic liability to ADHD; 95% CI: -2.8 to -0.7), whereas genetic liability to ASD a positive effect (MVMRIVW: 30 days per doubling of the genetic liability to ASD; 95% CI: 2 to 53). Reverse direction analyses suggested that genetic liability to higher EA had an effect on lower risk of ADHD, independently of cognitive ability (MVMRIVWOR: 0.33 per SD increase; 95% CI: 0.26 to 0.43) and increased risk of ASD (MRIVWOR: 1.51 per SD increase; 95% CI: 1.29 to 1.77), which was partly explained by cognitive ability (MVMRIVWOR per SD increase: 1.24; 95%CI: 0.96 to 1.60). Conclusions Genetic liability to ADHD and ASD is likely to affect educational attainment, independently of underlying cognitive ability.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Medicine
MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics (CNGG)
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISSN: 0300-5771
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 14 April 2021
Date of Acceptance: 8 April 2021
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2022 11:40

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