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The researchers estimate that the three gene variants account for 9 percent of all stuttering cases. But they are looking for other stuttering genes. In fact, between 50 percent and 70 percent of stuttering cases are thought to have a genetic component, Drayna said.
"The task of connecting the dots between genes and stuttering is just beginning," Simon E. Fisher of England's Oxford University wrote in an accompanying editorial.
The three implicated genes normally help run the "recycling bin" where cells of the body send their garbage. The mutations apparently interfere with that, affecting brain cells that control speech.
"People had suggested all sorts of causes for stuttering over the years. An inherited disorder of cell metabolism was never on anyone's list," Drayna said.
Two of the stuttering genes have previously been tied to rare diseases that can occur when the cell's recycling bin malfunctions.
Other related disorders are now being treated by replacing a missing enzyme, and that could eventually be a treatment method for some kinds of stuttering, the researchers said.
Kristin Chmela, a speech therapist from suburban Chicago who specializes in treating stuttering, said she was teased and bullied for her own stuttering while growing up, and "there were lots of days where I was afraid to go to school."
She said she is looking forward to sharing the gene discovery with those she treats: "It's going to be very interesting to see the reaction on some of their faces."
On the Net:
New England Journal: http://www.nejm.org/
Stuttering Foundation: http://www.stutteringhelp.org/
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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