Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Gene Mutation Leads to Impairment of Two Senses: Touch and Hearing

People with good hearing also have a keen sense of touch; people with impaired hearing generally have an impaired sense of touch. Data supporting this hypothesis was presented by Dr. Henning Frenzel and Prof. Gary R. Lewin (Max Delbrück Center, MDC, Berlin).
They showed that both senses have a common genetic basis. In patients with Usher syndrome, a hereditary form of deafness accompanied by impaired vision, they discovered a gene mutation that is also causative for the patients’ impaired touch sensitivity (PloS Biology doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001318)*. The examination was preceded by various studies, including twin studies. In total, they assessed sensory function in 518 volunteers.

People with good hearing also have a keen sense of touch; people with impaired hearing generally have an impaired sense of touch. Extensive data supporting this hypothesis was presented by Dr. Henning Frenzel and Professor Gary R. Lewin of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany. The two researchers showed that both senses – hearing and touch – have a common genetic basis. In patients with Usher syndrome, a hereditary form of deafness accompanied by impaired vision, they discovered a gene mutation that is also causative for the patients’ impaired touch sensitivity. The examination was preceded by various studies, including studies with healthy identical and non-identical human twins (PloS Biology, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001318)*. In total, the researchers assessed sensory function in 518 volunteers.

In all vertebrates, and consequently also in humans, hearing and touch represent two distinct sensory systems that both rely on the transformation of mechanical force into electrical signals. When we hear, sound waves trigger vibrations that stimulate the hair-like nerve endings in the cochlea in the inner ear. These then transform the mechanical stimuli into electrical signals, which are transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve. When we touch something a similar process takes place: The mechanical stimulus - sliding the fingers over a rough or smooth surface, the perception of vibrations - is taken up via sensors in the skin, converted into an electrical stimulus and transmitted to the brain.
Twin study with 100 pairs of twins
In recent years about 70 genes have been identified in humans, mutations in which trigger hearing loss or deafness. “Surprisingly, no genes have been found that negatively influence the sense of touch,” Professor Lewin said. To see whether the sense of touch also has a hereditary component, the researchers first studied 100 pairs of twins - 66 pairs of monozygotic twins and 34 dizygotic pairs of twins. Monozygotic twins are genetically completely identical; dizygotic twins are genetically identical to 50 percent. The tests showed that the touch sensitivity of the subjects was determined to more than 50 percent by genes. Furthermore, hearing and touch tests showed that there is a correlation between the sense of hearing and touch.

The researchers therefore suspected that genes that influence the sense of hearing may also have an influence on the sense of touch. In a next step, they recruited test subjects at a school in Berlin for students with hearing impairments. There they assessed the touch sensitivity in a cohort of 39 young people who suffered from severe congenital hearing impairment. The researchers compared these findings with the data from their twin study and discovered that not all of the young people with hearing loss had impaired tactile acuity. “Strikingly, however, many of these young people did indeed have poor tactile acuity,” Professor Lewin explained.

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.

Women hear better than men and have a finer sense of touch
The researchers discovered another interesting detail during their five-year study. “When women complain that their men are not really listening to them, there is some truth in that,” Professor Lewin said. “The studies with a total of 518 individuals including 295 women have actually shown that women hear better and they also have a finer sense of touch than men; in short woman hear and feel more than men!”
*A genetic basis for mechanosensory traits in humans
Henning Frenzel1, Jörg Bohlender2, Katrin Pinsker2, Bärbel Wohlleben2, Jens Tank3, Stefan G. Lechner1, Daniela Schiska2, Teresa Jaijo5, Franz Rueschendorf4, Kathrin Saar4, Jens Jordan3, José M. Millán5 and Manfred Gross2, Gary R. Lewin1,6

1Department of Neuroscience, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Robert-Rössle-Str. 10, Berlin-Buch D-13092 Germany, 2Department of Audiology and Phoniatrics, Charité, Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Augustenburger Platz 1, Berlin D-13353 Germany. 3Institute of Clinical Pharmacology, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Str. 1, Hannover D-30625, Germany, 4Experimental genetics of cardiovascular disease, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Robert-Rössle-Str. 10, Berlin-Buch D-13092 Germany, 5Genetics Unit, Hospital Universitario La Fe, Avda. de Campanar, 21, 46009 and CIBERER, Valencia, Spain
6Author for Correspondence

Press Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
in the Helmholtz Association
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33

Barbara Bachtler | Max-Delbrück-Centrum
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

nachricht Researchers develop eco-friendly, 4-in-1 catalyst
25.04.2017 | Brown University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>