Diversity in pathways to common childhood disruptive behavior disorders

Michelle M. Martel, Molly Nikolas, Katherine Jernigan, Karen Friderici, Joel T. Nigg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Oppositional-Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are highly comorbid, a phenomenon thought to be due to shared etiological factors and mechanisms. Little work has attempted to chart multiple-level-of-analysis pathways (i.e.; simultaneously including biological, environmental, and trait influences) to ODD and ADHD, the goal of the present investigation. 559 children/adolescents (325 boys) between the ages of 6 and 18 participated in a multi-stage, comprehensive diagnostic procedure. 148 were classified as ODD; 309 were classified as ADHD, based on parent, teacher, and clinician ratings. Children provided buccal or salivary samples of DNA, assayed for select markers in DRD4 and 5HTT. Parents completed the Alabama Parenting Questionnaire and the California Q-Sort. Children completed the Child Perception of Interparental Conflict Scale. Correlational associations consistent with multiple-level-of-analysis pathways to ODD and ADHD emerged. For ODD, children with the short allele of the 5HTT promoter polymorphism had higher neuroticism and ODD symptoms regardless of level of self-blame in relation to inter-parental conflict, whereas children without this allele had more ODD symptoms only in the context of more self-blame for inter-parental conflict. For ADHD (and ODD), children homozygous for the long allele of DRD4 120 bp insertion polymorphism had lower conscientiousness when exposed to inconsistent parenting, whereas children without this genotype were more resilient to effects of inconsistent discipline on conscientiousness. Thus, ODD and ADHD appear to demonstrate somewhat distinct correlational associations between etiological factors and mechanisms consistent with pathway models using a multiple-level-of-analysis approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1223-1236
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by NIH National Institute of Mental Health Grants R01-MH63146, MH59105-06, and MH070004-01. We are indebted to the families and staff who made this study possible.


  • ADHD
  • Disruptive behavior disorders
  • Gene by environment interaction
  • Mediation
  • ODD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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