Sunday, May 13, 2012

Touch sensitivity is inheritable and linked to hearing

Your ability to sense that something is touching you is governed by neural sensors that communicate with the brain. Neural cells are also necessary when it comes to hearing, as the sensory input from the ear needs to be transported to the brain, in an effort to make sense of incoming vibrations. Scientists from Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin investigated the underlying genes that govern the function of both touch and hearing, and found that there is a link between the two.

In their experiments, scientists measured touch sensitivity in healthy volunteers and in people with inherited deafness. They first tried to correlate touch sensitivity to genetics, which they found to be about 50-50, meaning half of the variation in how sensitive someone is to touch is genetically determined. To get their results, the scientists used identical and non-identical twins, making it easier to link certain characteristics to genes: identical twins have the same genetic make-up, while non-identical twins have genetically as much in common as you and your sister or brother.

Touching upon hearing
So far, no individual genes that account for touch sensitivity have been found. At the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, scientists asked themselves whether the genes that govern hearing are responsible for touch as well, and this appears to be the case. They found that test subjects with excellent hearing were, on average, more sensitive to touch, which provides proof for their hypothesis. Additionally, participants with a form of inherited deafness, meaning it is genetic, were found to have impaired touch as well. It was also shown that the genetic mutation associated with this specific form of deafness caused the aforementioned decrease in touch sensitivity.

By linking hearing and touch sensitivity, the scientists showed two things. First, proving that two sensory mechanisms of our body are related, and secondly, the role of genes in variation of touch sensitivity. There is very little known about the underlying mechanisms of touch, which is why the researchers will try to find more genes that also play a role.

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