Get access

Links between DRD4, executive attention, and alphabetic skills in a nonclinical sample


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.


Background:  The dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and reading disorders. In this study, we examined whether diminished anticipatory dopamine cell firing – typical of the long variant of the DRD4 allele – is related to emergent and advanced alphabetic skills, and whether executive attention is a mediator between this allele and alphabetic skills.

Method:  We tested alphabetic skills in a normative sample of 159 children in both kindergarten and Grade 1, and executive attention 1 year earlier. Cheek cells were collected and genomic DNA was isolated from the samples using the Chemagic buccal swab kit on a chemagen Module I workstation.

Results:  Thirty-seven percent of the children were carriers of at least one DRD4 7-repeat allele. Carriers of the long variant scored lower on alphabetic skills, and executive attention appeared to be a mediator of the relation between characteristics of DRD4 and alphabetic skills in kindergarten and first grade.

Conclusion:  This study shows how a genetic factor which has been shown to relate to variation in attention and regulatory behavior can explain delays in alphabetic skills. A practical implication is that in many cases early interventions should not only target reading skills, but also support children’s engagement in tasks.

Get access to the full text of this article