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

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs