Scientists narrow search for genes associated with the ability to 'see' sounds

February 5, 2009

A new study identifies specific chromosomal regions linked to auditory visual synaesthesia, a neurological condition characterized by seeing colors in response to sounds. The research, published online on February 5th in the American Journal of Human Genetics, makes major strides towards identifying the genes that underlie synaesthesia and may eventually lead to improved understanding of typical and atypical cognitive development.

In synaesthesia, which affects less than 1% of the population, stimulation of one sensory pathway results in experiences in another pathway (e.g. hearing sounds triggers colors) or in a different facet of the same pathway (e.g. reading black text trigger colors). "Synaesthesia is known to run in families but the genetics of synaesthesia are not well understood," says lead study author Dr. Julian E. Asher from the Department of Genomic Medicine at Imperial College London.

Dr. Asher designed a study to look for genes linked to auditory visual synaesthesia. The research, performed as part of Dr Asher's PhD in Prof. Anthony Monaco's laboratory at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford in collaboration with Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, involved a sophisticated genome-wide screen to search for susceptibility genes linked to auditory-visual synaesthesia.

The research team identified four candidate regions linked with susceptibility to synaesthesia but no support was found for an earlier theory of linkage to the X-chromosome. Although the resolution of the scan makes identifying candidate genes challenging, the researchers identified a number of interesting genes.

"The region on chromosome 2 with the strongest linkage is particularly interesting as it has been previously linked to autism," offers Dr. Asher. "Sensory and perceptual abnormalities are common in autism spectrum conditions and synaesthesia is sometimes reported as a symptom." Candidate genes associated with epilepsy, dyslexia, learning and memory are also located in the candidate regions.

The findings indicate that the genetic basis of auditory-visual synaesthesia is more complex than originally believed and may be due to a combination of multiple genes subject to multiple modes of inheritance. "This study comprises a significant step towards identifying the genetic substrates underlying synaesthesia, with important implications for our understanding of the role of genes in human cognition and perception," concludes Dr. Asher.

Source: Cell Press

Explore further: High-fat diet made Inuits healthier but shorter thanks to gene mutations, study finds

Related Stories

Sustainability matters, even in complex networks

August 11, 2015

You're driving down the highway in your Honda Civic. You press the pedal to the metal and the speedometer flips to 90 as you torque into the fast lane. How much effort have you, and the car, expended?

Researchers provide new details about sea stars' immunity

July 28, 2015

A study led by a University of Texas at Arlington graduate student examining sea stars dying along the West Coast provides new clues about the starfish's immune response and its ability to protect a diverse coastal ecosystem.

Scientists bolster 'phage' weapons in food safety battle

July 22, 2015

In the war to keep food safe from bacteria, Cornell food scientists examine a class of weaponry called bacteriophages – an all-natural biological enemy for the nasty Listeria monocytogenes, which threatens meat, produce, ...

Unlocking lignin for sustainable biofuel

July 7, 2015

Turning trees, grass, and other biomass into fuel for automobiles and airplanes is a costly and complex process. Biofuel researchers are working to change that, envisioning a future where cellulosic ethanol, an alcohol derived ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.