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Stuttering Mice Strengthen the Possibility of Genetic Role in Speech Impediments

Stuttering is thought to be linked to a mutation in the Gnptab gene, so researchers at the 2015 Society for Neuroscience Conference induced that mutation in mice. According to Science News, the results strengthen the argument that stuttering has a genetic cause, and the study itself reveals exciting new techniques for speech-related animal testing.

Around 70 million people worldwide experience stuttering. It is more common in early childhood, but 75% of young children “recover” from stuttering over time. The idea that stuttering is genetic is hardly new; David Ward, Director of the Speech Research Laboratory at the University of Reading, published the book Stuttering and Cluttering in 2006. Amongst other insights, Ward noted that children with parents or siblings who stutter are more likely to do so themselves.

As Science News puts it, Gnptab is a “housekeeping” gene. A study by Kang et al in 2010 indicated markers for a Gnptab mutation are often found in people with the speech impediment; reproducing it in mice would allow researchers to determine the role played by genes without environment being a factor. The mutation was induced in mice in the hope that the subjects would stutter – or at least, the mouse equivalent.

The researchers, aware that identifying stuttering in mice would be no easy task, used a computerised model. They determined that there were two identifying factors in detecting stuttering: the number of vocalisations made per minute, and the amount of time between each vocalisation. Humans who stutter emit fewer vocalisations than humans who do not, and they leave longer gaps between utterances. Using these parameters, sounds made by the mice were analysed and compared with those made by mice that did not have the gene mutation.

Over a three and a half minute period, the mice with the Gnptab mutation produced only 80 vocalisations. The control group produced 190. Mice with the mutation also left greater gaps between sounds.

This study opens up the possibility that the role of the Gnptab gene in speech is something that multiple species have in common, and it could lead to greater understanding of the role of genes and “neural mechanisms” in speech. It also provides a compelling case for finding new and innovative ways to gather data during experimentation; this study would have been far harder without the model used to assess rodent “speech”.

If you would like to read the Science News article on the stuttering mice study, click here. In addition to learning about this study and many others, attendees at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago can also visit the Actual Analytics exhibit. To learn more about the conference, click here. To find out about our ActualHCA system, visit our product page or contact us now.