Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a very common and heterogeneous childhood-onset psychiatric disorder, affecting between 3% and 5% of school age children worldwide. Although the neurobiology of ADHD is not completely understood, imbalances in both dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems have been implicated in the origin and persistence of core symptoms, which include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The role of a genetic component in its etiology is strongly supported by genetic studies, and several investigations have suggested that the dopamine transporter gene (DAT1; SLC6A3 locus) may be a small-effect susceptibility gene for ADHD. Stimulant medication has a well-documented efficacy in reducing ADHD symptoms. Methylphenidate, the most prescribed stimulant, seems to act mainly by inhibiting the dopamine transporter protein and dopamine reuptake. In fact, its effect is probably related to an increase in extracellular levels of dopamine, especially in brain regions enriched in this protein (i.e. striatum). It is also important to note that dopamine transporter densities seem to be particularly elevated in the brain of ADHD patients, decreasing after treatment with methylphenidate. Altogether, these observations suggest that the dopamine transporter does play a major role in ADHD. Among the several polymorphisms already described in the SLC6A3 locus, a 40 bp variable number of tandem repeats (VNTR) polymorphism has been extensively investigated in association studies with ADHD. Although there are some negative results, the findings from these reports indicate the allele with ten copies of the 40 bp sequence (10-repeat allele) as the risk allele for ADHD. Some investigations have suggested that this polymorphism can be implicated in dopamine transporter gene expression in vitro and dopamine transporter density in vivo, even though it is located in a non-coding region of the SLC6A3 locus. Despite all these data, few studies have addressed the relationship between genetic markers (specifically the VNTR) at the SLC6A3 locus and response to methylphenidate in ADHD patients. A significant effect of the 40 bp VNTR on response to methylphenidate has been detected in most of these reports. However, the findings are inconsistent regarding both the allele (or genotype) involved and the direction of this influence (better or worse response). Thus, further investigations are required to determine if genetic variation due to the VNTR in the dopamine transporter gene is able to predict different levels of clinical response and palatability to methylphenidate in patients with ADHD, and how this information would be useful in clinical practice.
Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith