Large study hopes to provide better insight into the genetics behind stuttering

Over 1500 adults and children from the UK are being recruited for an international study to find the genes that cause stuttering.

The largest study of its kind hopes to better understand why some people are more likely to develop stuttering, also known as stuttering, with the aim of developing new treatments that target the cause rather than just the symptoms.

As well as experts from the UK, research teams from New Zealand, Australia, the US and the Netherlands are also looking for people aged five and over who stutter or have a history of stuttering for the study of the genetics of stuttering. Stuttering, which causes frequent and significant problems with speech fluency and fluency, affects one in every 100 adults.

WEHI (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research), Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Griffith University and the University of Melbourne are coordinating the global project. University College London (UCL) will oversee the UK arm of the study.

UCL associate professor Frédérique Liegeois said study participants would contribute to a global effort to better understand the genetics behind stuttering.

Knowing more about the genetic basis will help us identify who is most likely to develop a stutter.”

Frédérique Liegeois, UCL Lecturer

WEHI and Professor Melanie Bahlo from the University of Melbourne said stuttering usually appears in children between the ages of two and four after they start talking.

“About 4% of children go through a phase where they stretch out words or get stuck trying to speak,” she said. Studies show that 8% of three-year-olds and 11% of four-year-olds stutter.”

Angela Morgan, a professor at Murdoch Children’s and the University of Melbourne, said that although the exact cause of stuttering is unknown, genetics have been found to play a role and researchers have identified four genes that may be linked to disease.

“Globally, 1% of adults stutter and nearly 70% of those who report a family history of stuttering,” she said. But even for people in whom the disorder doesn’t run in the family, genetics can still play a role.

“Gender is one of the most predisposing factors for stuttering. Boys are two to five times more likely to stutter than girls and are also less likely to stop stuttering without therapy.

“Many treatments for stuttering focus only on the symptoms, without targeting the underlying causes. We hope this research will lead to the development of new therapies for those who wish to access treatment to better manage their stuttering and learn to speak more easily.”

To participate in the trial, volunteers must complete a 10-minute online survey. Those who meet the study criteria will be asked to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis. People who stutter, with or without a family history, are encouraged to participate.

Participants will be kept informed of bi-monthly updates via the study website and can follow the Facebook page or Twitter account for updates.


Murdoch Children’s Research Institute