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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid