Stuttering is in the genes
Stuttering is less to do with nervousness and more to with your genes, scientists have discovered, in a breakthrough that could lead to new drug treatments. Around one per cent of the population suffer from a stutter at some time during their lives and it has been assumed it was a symptom of severe anxiety.
But now research has discovered three genes that appear to be linked to the condition.
The finding means that new drug treatments could be developed that switch off the genes involved and so remove the underlying cause.
The study, led by researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in America, has identified three genes as a source of stuttering in volunteers in Pakistan, the United States, and England.
“For hundreds of years, the cause of stuttering has remained a mystery for researchers and health care professionals alike, not to mention people who stutter and their families,” said Dr James Battey, director of the NIDCD.
“This is the first study to pinpoint specific gene mutations as the potential cause of stuttering, a disorder that affects three million Americans, and by doing so, might lead to a dramatic expansion in our options for treatment.”
Stuttering is a speech disorder in which a person repeats or prolongs sounds, syllables, or words, disrupting the normal flow of speech.
It can severely hinder communication and a person’s quality of life. Most children who stutter will outgrow stuttering, although many do not.
Current therapies for adults who stutter have focused on such strategies as reducing anxiety, regulating breathing and rate of speech, and using electronic devices to help improve fluency.
But as stuttering tends to run in families, researchers decided to look to see if there was a genetic component.
They analysed the genes of 123 Pakistani individuals who stutter and 96 who did not. They then did the same for 270 stutterers in the US and England and 276 in the same countries that did not.
They identified three mutations in a specific gene which showed up in individuals who stutter but not those with fluent speech.
The genes found have also been linked to some metabolic diseases and so treatments that affect them are already available.
They may be able to modify these drugs to help people with a stutter, concluded the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.