Stuttering in the DNA?
Bruce Willis, Marilyn Monroe, and Carly Simon all suffered
Today, three million Americans do, too. Most are able to
overcome the handicap, which afflicts 5% of all children - but
childhood suffering from stuttering can be traumatic, producing
educational, social, and occupational disadvantages.
Intriguing new research from a large-scale international
project is providing new insight into the disability. Prof.
Ehud Yairi, a long-term Visiting Professor at Tel Aviv
University's Sackler School of Medicine, Department of
Communication Disorders and founder of the Illinois
International Stuttering Research Program at the University of
Illinois, is among the leaders of the project.
Prof. Yairi and his fellow researchers are now reporting strong
evidence for a significant genetic component to stuttering.
They've established that the likelihood of both a spontaneous
recovery from stuttering and the development of a chronic
disorder are genetically linked.
A Personal Matter
Prof. Yairi, who suffered from a severe stutter into early
adulthood and still exhibits a mild form of the disorder at the
age of 69, first suspected that stuttering had genetic ties in
his own family. Before him, his grandfather, father, aunts and
cousins on his father's side had exhibited mild to severe forms
of stuttering. "I've become an expert in my own problem," he
"One of the most important goals for us as researchers is to
identify ways for making early prognoses, diagnosing both those
children who would exhibit chronic stuttering through their
lifetimes and those who would recover naturally," says Prof.
Yairi. "This will have huge implications for clinical
decisions, both for identifying children at high risk for
chronic stuttering, as well as selecting the right timing and
type of treatment."
An International Affair
A recent major study supported by NIH took the genetic aspect a
step further by geneotyping blood samples collected from
Israeli, Swedish, and American families with multiple cases of
stuttering. This complex study, headed by Professor Nancy Cox,
a team member from the University of Chicago School of
Medicine, had a branch in Israel, run by Dr. Ruth Ezrati and
Professor Minka Hildesheimer, both associates of Tel Aviv
University. The researchers were able to identify areas on
several chromosomes which indicated a linkage to stuttering,
leading the scientists to hope that identification of specific
genes underlying stuttering might be isolated.
These findings were published recently in the American Journal
of Human Genetics and in the Journal of Communication
"The data supports our previous conclusions about the role of
genetics in stuttering. Progress in this area will produce some
of the most important information in this research in decades,"
says Prof. Yairi.
Intervene Early, But Don't Panic
Though stuttering can affect children of all ages, boys are
three times more likely to stutter than girls, says Prof.
Yairi. He suggests that parents take their children to a speech
pathologist within one or two months of the onset of a stutter,
though long-term stuttering can be diagnosed only after six to
12 months or so from the stuttering onset.
"All kids exhibit some form of repetition when they are
learning to talk, so I would inform parents not to panic if
they notice a stutter. Stuttering is a common phenomenon, and
most children usually recover," says Prof. Yairi. An early
alumnus of Tel Aviv University, he studied at both TAU's
Department of Psychology and the Department of Middle Eastern
and African Studies despite his own severe stutter.
His father, Prof. Yairi notes, had been hoping his son would
become an x-ray technician, to avoid having to communicate with
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press