News / Science & Technology

    Researchers Discover Stuttering Gene

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Jessica Berman

    Researchers have discovered a gene linked to stuttering, a speech disorder that afflicts an estimated one million adults worldwide.  Scientists believe the finding raises hope that a drug might someday be developed to treat this disabling condition.

    Researchers say the speech impediment appears to stem from a defect in the gene that regulates the way brain cells break down and recycle waste products.  This abnormality interferes with the brain's ability to process speech.

    Stuttering causes sufferers to get stuck repeating or prolonging sounds, syllables or words that interrupt the normal flow of speech.

    Experts say most children who stutter seem to magically outgrow the disorder.

    But for people who continue to stutter into adulthood, researcher Dennis Drayna of the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicable Disorders says stuttering can be profoundly disabling.

    "I think in some cases it is hardly even viewed as a legitimate disorder," said Drayna.  "You know people just dismiss it all the time when in fact it's a clear biological disorder that has very big influences on affected individuals."

    Stuttering's cause has long been a mystery, but it has frequently been diagnosed as a psychological problem.  Treatments have included strategies to reduce anxiety and stress, and the use of breathing exercises.

    But stuttering tends to run in families, a fact that prompted Drayna and colleagues to search for a genetic link.  

    They homed in on a single gene, known as GNPTAB, which was defective in 46 members of a large Pakistani family.  The abnormal gene also was found in 77 unrelated Pakistanis with the speech impediment.

    In addition, the researchers found the same dysfunctional gene in a group of American and British stutterers.

    Drayna says the GNPTAB gene is present in all higher-order animals and contributes to humans' unique ability to communicate.

    "We're not the biggest.  We're not the strongest.  We're not the fastest.  We don't have the best senses of vision or hearing.  What it is, is our ability to communicate so we can form groups in communities and do much larger things than we could ever do as individual organisms," he added.  "So when you destroy an individual's ability to communicate, you have really destroyed one of the most important aspects that we have as a species."

    In addition to the abnormal GNPTAB gene, Drayna's research team discovered that several other defective genes associated with GNPTAB were also shared by the stutterers.
    These genes are involved in a number of inherited metabolic disorders, including Tay Sachs, a rare, incurable and usually fatal disease that causes the destruction of nerve cells in young children.  

    Drayna says therapies to replace enzymes that cause the diseases have been developed to treat half a dozen of these metabolic disorders.  He is hopeful there could eventually be a similar treatment for stuttering.

    But in a published commentary on the research, Simon Fisher, a speech and language researcher at the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics at Oxford University cautions that before researchers can develop a drug therapy for stuttering, they will need to learn much more about the precise biochemical mechanism of the disorder.
     
    Fisher notes that not every stutterer in the Drayna study had the defective gene, meaning there must be a number of other genes tied to stuttering.

    "What we can't say that this is a recessive or a dominant form," said Fisher.  "All that we can say is that by carrying this particular variant, you have a greater chance of being a stutterer."

    An article on the discovery of a gene associated with stuttering, and the commentary by Simon Fisher, are published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.