Study Identifies Link between Gene and Behavioral Problems in Disabled Adults

Adults who struggle with developmental and intellectual disabilities may often exhibit behavioral problems. As this can be an issue for loved ones or caregivers, it is important to understand the cause and identify possible treatments.

Science Daily recently published a release that examined a study of a common variation of the gene involved in regulating serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. The findings from this study suggest a link between this gene and behavioral problems.

“Problem behaviors in these populations account for billions of dollars in intervention costs each year, but nearly all of these interventions occur after the fact,” said Craig Kennedy in Science Daily.

Kennedy is co-author of the study and professor of special education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development, said. “This research suggests one way we might predict which individuals are at risk of being aggressive and destructive and provide treatment before problems occur.”

Problem behaviors are common in as many as 20 percent of adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. To conduct this study, researchers focused on aggression, self-injury and property destruction to determine if there was a genetic underpinning for these behaviors.

The gene of focus is one that encodes monoamine oxidize A or MAOA, as it is involved in the regulation of the neurotransmitter serotonin – linked to appetite and mood – and the neurotransmitter and hormone norepinephrine – linked to the fight or flight response. Previous studies found variations in MAOA were linked to violent behavior.

“We found that a common variant of the MAOA gene was strongly associated with problem behaviors in adults with developmental and / or intellectual disabilities,” Kennedy said.

In fact, 43 percent of those with developmental and intellectual disabilities and behavior problems had the gene variant, while 20 percent of the same group with no behavior issues did not. At the same time, 20 percent of the typically developing control group also did not possess this gene variant.

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