Genetic Overlap Between Midfrontal Theta Signals and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder in a Longitudinal Twin Cohort

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Background: Cognitive control has been strongly linked to midfrontal theta (4–8 Hz) brain activity. Such control processes are known to be impaired in individuals with psychiatric conditions and neurodevelopmental diagnoses, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Temporal variability in theta, in particular, has been associated with ADHD, with shared genetic variance underlying the relationship. Here, we investigated the phenotypic and genetic relationships between theta phase variability, theta-related signals (the N2, error-related negativity, and error positivity), reaction time, and ADHD and ASD longitudinally in a large twin study of young adults to investigate the stability of the genetic relationships between these measures over time. Methods: Genetic multivariate liability threshold models were run on a longitudinal sample of 566 participants (283 twin pairs). Characteristics of ADHD and ASD were measured in childhood and young adulthood, while an electroencephalogram was recorded in young adulthood during an arrow flanker task. Results: Cross-trial theta phase variability in adulthood showed large positive phenotypic and genetic relationships with reaction time variability and both childhood and adult ADHD characteristics. Error positivity amplitude was negatively related phenotypically and genetically to ADHD and ASD at both time points. Conclusions: We showed significant genetic associations between variability in theta signaling and ADHD. A novel finding from the current study is that these relationships were stable across time, indicating a core dysregulation of the temporal coordination of control processes in ADHD that persists in individuals with childhood symptoms. Error processing, indexed by the error positivity, was altered in both ADHD and ASD, with a strong genetic contribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)823-832
Number of pages10
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number10
Early online date13 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2023

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