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Archive - Feb 11, 2010

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First Genes for Stuttering Discovered

Scientists have identified the first three genes ever associated with the phenomenon of stuttering. All three genes are involved in the day-to-day process by which cellular components in key regions of the brain are broken down and recycled by processing in a cell structure called the lysosome. "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 F. Battey, Jr., director of the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), who was not directly involved in the research. "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 the problem, although many do not; roughly 1 percent of adults stutter worldwide. 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. Former college and NBA basketball star Bill Walton (photo) suffered from a stuttering problem that he largely overcame and he has subsequently gone on to become a successful TV announcer. Stuttering tends to run in families, and researchers have long suspected a genetic component. Previous studies of stuttering in a group of families from Pakistan have been performed by Dr.