Below is a list of five of the most common medications for ADHD. In order to break down or metabolize these drugs, however, a series of steps must take place for effective absorption, delivery and clearance of these drugs. This process, however, requires a series of enzymatic steps. Generally, when a physician prescribes these drugs, he or she considers factors such as the patient's age, gender, symptom severity and past medication history. However, lost in the shuffle is a lesser-known, but often equally critical factor: the particular genes of the individual. It is these genes which play a large role as to how well these enzymes function (alongside other factors such as the person's nutritional status, as most vitamins and minerals act as chemical "helpers" to these enzymes, and deficiencies can lead to lower enzyme function and sub-optimal metabolic efficiency).
ADHD Drug #1: Strattera (Atomoxetine)
Key enzymes involved and gene of interest: SLC6A2, CYP2D6
Approximately a dozen different genetic forms (or alleles) of this CYP2D6 gene are seen in individuals of European ancestry. These forms are often designated by a star followed by a number, such as *1 or *4. While these numbers are used for naming purposes, it is worth noting that most individuals of European descent appear to carry either the *1 (the most common), the *2 or the *4 form of this gene. Additionally, *3, *6, and *10 forms are each found in about 1-2 percent of the population.
Interestingly, the *10 form of this gene is found in higher levels in individuals of East-Asian descent. A Chinese study found that a higher frequency of this *10 form in the population (the *10 form shows up in over half of the Chinese population, about 10 times more frequently than in whites), resulted in slower rate of drug metabolism of the ADHD medication Strattera (Atomoxetine) by the CYP2D6 enzyme.
Relevance of the CYP2D6 gene to medicating ADHD with Strattera: The *10 form of the CYP2D6 produces less enzymatic activity than the most common *1 form. This can result in about a 50% increase in Atomoxetine concentration in the blood and duration before clearance, which was seen in the Chinese study. As a result, for individuals with the exclusive *10 form (such as seen in much of the East Asian population), slightly lower or less frequent dosing levels of atomoxetine might be needed to get the same therapeutic effects. This is in agreement with another study suggesting a 50 to 75% dosage reduction of Atomoxetine for those with hepatic impairment (liver dysfunction), as the CYP2D6 enzyme is produced in the liver.
Additionally, this population may be at a slightly greater risk of side effects with the drug due to a slower clearance and greater buildup of the drug. Of course other genes and additional factors in the Atomoxetine pathway certainly play a role, but these genetic variations can still play a significant role in medication dosing strategies.
ADHD drug #2: Adderall (Mixed amphetamine salts)
Due to its chemical proximity to amphetamines (Vyvanse is essentially an "inactivated" form of the drug Dexedrine, which is an isolation of one of the potent components of Adderall). A special chemical "tag" is linked to the active part of the drug, which must be chemically cleaved to release the active form of Vyvanse (think of it as essentially breaking a seal to free up the drug) into its functional amphetamine-based product. Naturally, the genes listed above (and the enzymes which they encode) which metabolize amphetamines are of substantial interest for potentially influencing the effectiveness of ADHD treatment with Vyvanse as well.
However, the actual cleaving process of releasing the active component of Vyvanse is equally as important. If the drug is not freed, then it cannot be effectively metabolized.
Several enzymes which are called upon to metabolize the other ADHD drugs in this post do NOT appear to have a significant effect on Vyvanse. These include CYP2A6, CYP2B6 (both for nicotine), and CYP2D6 (for Strattera). This is good news for those who are already taking medications, as Vyvanse's relative independence of these drug-metabolizing enzymes means fewer adverse drug-drug interactions.
As far as genetics go, the genes coding for the breakage of de-activating chemical tag placed on Vyvanse may be of most importance, especially since this breakage (or "hydrolysis") is believed to be the slowest (or rate-determining) step in metabolizing Vyvanse for ADHD. The de-activating "tag" attached to Vyvanse is none other than the amino acid lysine. While the exact mechanism of cleaving this link is not fully known, one enzyme in particular may be extremely relevant to this process.
Trypsin is an extremely common digestive enzyme produced predominantly in the pancreas. It is responsible for breaking up chemical linkages much like that of the one used to de-activate Vyvanse. Thus, a genetically-governed deficiency of the trypsin enzyme could lead to a severely hampered absorption (and subsequent metabolism and clearance of the ADHD drug Vyvanse).
Trypsin is actually coded for by a series of enzymes, often referred to as Trypsinogen, which located on the 7th human chromosome (in the "q35" region of the chromosome to be more exact). Individuals with pancreatic deficiencies, including pancreatitis have been tied down to having mutations in this trypsinogen gene.
Therefore, while this genetic region on the 7th chromosome hasn't been sufficiently studied with regards to Vyvanse (at least to the best of this blogger's current knowledge), this blogger personally believes that aberrations in the region of the Trypsinogen gene on this 7th human chromosome may be a worthwhile place to look for genetic response-based differences to the ADHD medication Vyvanse.
Carboxylesterase 1: Although the affected form of this enzyme, which is coded for by a gene on the 16th chromosome, is relatively rare, some key studies have indicated that deficiencies in the CES1 enzyme can be coded from specific forms of this gene. These rare, low-functioning gene-mutation forms of Carboxylesterase 1 result in extremely poor methylphenidate metabolism, resulting in a buildup of abnormally high levels of the drug in individuals with this enzymatically-deficient form.
ADHD drug #5: Nicotine:
With regards to nicotine metabolism, 2 genes appear to stand out in particular: CYP2A6 and CYP2B6 (note the similarity in nomenclature between these and the gene/enzyme mentioned above for Strattera metabolism CYP2D6. This is not an accident, as all three of these belong to the same "superfamily" of enzymes and carry many similar chemical and functional similarities). Out of these, the CYP2A6 (hereafter abbreviated as "2A6") enzyme is responsible for the lion's share of nicotine metabolism. It is coded for by by a gene of the same name, located in the "q13.2" region on the 19th human chromosome.
Like the 2D6 gene for Strattera, the 2A6 gene can exist in multiple different forms. Some 2A6 gene forms produce higher levels of the 2A6 enzyme than others. Other forms of 2A6 are less efficient, which results in a slower breakdown and clearance of nicotine. As a result, the nicotine stays in the body longer, and less of it is typically required. As a result individuals with these less efficient forms (called "slow metabolizers") of the 2A6 genes are less likely to develop nicotine addictions.
The relevance of these 2A6 genes on ADHD: The stimulating effects of nicotine are believed to be a major contributing factor to the higher prevalence of smoking among the ADHD population. If this is true, then slow metabolizers of nicotine may not derive the full effect of nicotine self-medication for attentional deficits, at least not as immediately as the fast metabolizers. On the flipside, they have lower cravings (like with virtually all stimulant drugs, the speed and rate of uptake and clearance of nicotine is a major factor in its addiction potential) and are exposed to less tobacco and often find it easier to quit smoking.
At least two alleles or forms of the 2A6 gene (using the "star/number" nomencalture us used in 2D6 for Strattera earlier in this blog), have been shown to coincide with slower rates of nicotine metabolism. They are 2A6*2 and 2A6*4 (these two forms are actually referred to as "null alleles" meaning that the 2A6 enzyme they code for has no activity).
Additionally, there are noticeable differences in the frequencies of these forms across different ethnicities among the global population. For example, these "slow metabolizing" gene/enzyme forms of are found in higher percentages in individuals of Asian ancestry (around 20%) compared to those of European descent (around 8%).
With regards to ADHD behavior, it is likely that people possessing these *2 or *4 forms of the CYP2A6 gene, may be less likely to use nicotine as a self-medication tool for their ADHD, or at least use the drug in lower doses, due to its lesser effects. On the flipside, however, there is another allele of the 2A6 gene, referred to as CYP2A6*1B. This version of the 2A6 nicotine metabolism gene actually promotes greater activity of the nicotine metabolizing enzyme, and speeds up the processing and clearance of the drug. As a result, individuals who possess this relatively rare CYP2A6 form may be more prone to more frequent use and abuse of nicotine, and individuals with ADHD who attempt to self-medicate with this drug may cycle through their nicotine more rapidly if they carry this *1B form of the gene.
Interestingly, another drug, bupropion (Wellbutrin), which is an anti-depressant often used off-label to treat more "depressive" forms of ADHD is a relatively common anti-smoking drug. Given the fact that a number of ADHD'ers who typically do not respond well to stimulants, but do respond to Wellbutrin may fall in this smoking category, it is possible that the fast metabolizers (i.e. the *1B individuals), may be good candidates for Wellbutrin, not only to stop smoking, but possibly also to treat unwanted ADHD symptoms.
Alleles of the CYP2B6 gene and enzyme with regards to nicotine and ADHD:
Shifting gears for a minute, we see that the CYP2B6 gene (as well as the enzyme which it encodes) also may also play a unique role in ADHD. The CYP2B6 gene is located on the 19th human chromosome (in the 13.2 region of the 19th, to be more specific). For individuals who lack CYP2A6 enzyme activity because of the reduced-activity or even "null" alleles, the enzyme CYP2B6 can metabolize nicotine in its place (it turns out that CYP2D6, the enzyme responsible for Strattera metabolism can also do the trick). For those who need to metabolize nicotine, but lack an effective CYP2A6 enzyme system, this is good news (however, this "B6" enzyme only functions at about 10% of the level of the "A6" enzyme, so B6 is not a very efficient "backup" for A6).
Beyond its role as a "backup" for the CYP2A6 enzyme, CYP2B6 may also be of clinical significance with regards to ADHD and similar disorders. In contrast to "A6", whose enzymes are predominantly generated in the liver, the CYP2B6 generated enzymes are expressed in brain tissue. With regards to the differences in neurochemistry and neurological functioning of the ADHD brain, the role of CYP2B6 is therefore potentially noteworthy.
Additionally, as we have discussed in earlier posts regarding ADHD and alcoholism, the 2B6 enzyme apparently also plays a role in alcoholism, and individuals who express higher levels of this genetically-encoded CYP2B6 enzyme in their brains may be more sensitive to alcohol, nicotine and other centrally acting drugs. The study even suggests that individuals with high levels of this gene-coded enzyme may be more prone to damages induced from these common chemical agents, including possible higher susceptibility to cancer.
For reference (using the "star" notation again), genetic forms of CYP2B6 which typically yield higher levels of this enzyme in the brain include the CYP2B6*4 (which shows up in about a third of the European popluation) form and the CYP2B6*9 (which is present in about a quarter of those of European descent) form. Again, don't worry too much about the specifics of these "starred" variants, just know that if you were to get a genetic screen and had one of these two enzymatic forms, you may be more sensitive to nicotine as a self-treatment ADHD "medication".
What this means is that ADHD individuals who harbor the higher-expressing "*4" and "*9" forms of the CYP2B6 enzyme in their brains may be more sensitive to chemical agents such as nicotine, and these same individuals may be more likely to suffer the toxic effects of this popular form of ADHD "self-medication".
In conclusion, we should note that some of these genes (such as DAT) have been well-studied and have repeatedly shown to be associated factor in proper dosing of ADHD medications. Others, however, such as the trypsinogen gene for Vyvanse are more at the theoretical level at the moment. However, this blogger believes that in the next couple of decades, (due in part to our expanding knowledge of the human genetic code and functional genomics), genetic screens will become foutinely more commonplace as a necessary tool for both prescribing and dosing medications. With regards to this general trend, psychotropic medications for disorders such as ADHD should be no exception.