© 2014 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Background: Through the increased availability and sophistication of genetic testing, it is now possible to identify causal diagnoses in a growing proportion of children with neurodevelopmental disorders. In addition to developmental delay and intellectual disability, many genetic disorders are associated with high risks of psychopathology, which curtail the wellbeing of affected individuals and their families. Beyond the identification of significant clinical needs, understanding the diverse pathways from rare genetic mutations to cognitive dysfunction and emotional-behavioural disturbance has theoretical and practical utility. Methods: We overview (based on a strategic search of the literature) the state-of-the-art on causal mechanisms leading to one of the most common childhood behavioural diagnoses - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - in the context of specific genetic disorders. We focus on new insights emerging from the mapping of causal pathways from identified genetic differences to neuronal biology, brain abnormalities, cognitive processing differences and ultimately behavioural symptoms of ADHD. Findings: First, ADHD research in the context of rare genotypes highlights the complexity of multilevel mechanisms contributing to psychopathology risk. Second, comparisons between genetic disorders associated with similar psychopathology risks can elucidate convergent or distinct mechanisms at each level of analysis, which may inform therapeutic interventions and prognosis. Third, genetic disorders provide an unparalleled opportunity to observe dynamic developmental interactions between neurocognitive risk and behavioural symptoms. Fourth, variation in expression of psychopathology risk within each genetic disorder points to putative moderating and protective factors within the genome and the environment. Conclusion: A common imperative emerging within psychopathology research is the need to investigate mechanistically how developmental trajectories converge or diverge between and within genotype-defined groups. Crucially, as genetic predispositions modify interaction dynamics from the outset, longitudinal research is required to understand the multi-level developmental processes that mediate symptom evolution.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
251 - 273