The researchers decided it would take too much time to analyze which of the approximately 70 genes that adversely affect the sense of hearing may also negatively affect the sense of touch. Therefore, the researchers focused specifically on patients with the Usher syndrome, a hereditary form of hearing impairment, in which the patients progressively become blind. Usher syndrome patients have varying degrees of hearing impairment, and the disease is genetically very well studied. There are nine known Usher genes carrying mutations which cause the disease.
The researchers examined one cohort of patients in a special consultation at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin for Usher patients from all over Germany. A second cohort was recruited at the university hospital La Fe in Valencia, Spain. The studies revealed that not all patients with Usher-syndrome have poor tactile acuity and touch sensitivity. The researchers showed that only patients with Usher syndrome who have a mutation in the gene USH2A have poor touch sensitivity. This mutation is also responsible for the impaired hearing of 19 patients. The 29 Usher-syndrome patients in whom the mutation could not be detected had a normal sense of touch. The researchers thus demonstrated that there is a common genetic basis for the sense of hearing and touch. They suspect that even more genes will be discovered in the future that influence both mechanosensory traits.
Barbara Bachtler | Max-Delbrück-Centrum
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