Study Reveals Genetic Links to Age-Related Hearing Problems in Adults

age related hearing loss genetics
May 17, 2023

A recent study led by scientists from the Yale School of Medicine has shed new light on the source of hearing problems in adults. While congenital hearing impairment is often linked to rare mutations and occurs during childhood, adult hearing problems are believed to be influenced by a combination of polygenic risk and environmental factors. Although previous genome-wide association studies have identified certain risk genes associated with adult hearing problems, some factors have not been extensively studied on a large genetic scale.

One aspect that remains unclear is why older men experience more common, severe, and early-onset hearing problems compared to women. Additionally, the translation of hearing-related polygenic risk across diverse ancestral backgrounds is uncertain. While environmental risk factors like noise exposure and tobacco smoking are known to increase the risk of hearing problems, the molecular mechanisms underlying these associations are not fully understood.

Large Scale Genetic Investigation

To expand the understanding of age-related hearing problems, researchers from Yale, Harvard University, and the University of California San Diego collaborated on a study involving approximately 750,000 adults. They identified 54 risk variants, including 12 novel variants, that could contribute to hearing problems. The study also highlighted the potential role of hormonal regulation in explaining the differences between men and women in terms of hearing problems.

By analyzing multiple ancestry groups, the researchers demonstrated that polygenic risk for hearing problems is shared across human populations. They also identified genes related to brain development that interact with factors such as sex, noise pollution, and tobacco smoking in their associations with hearing problems.

Visual representation of the 22 Bonferroni-significant putative causal effects identified through the latent causal variable analysis. Brown labels: HP has causative effect on the trait in the label. Purple labels: Trait in the label has causative effect on HP. The absolute gcp (genetic causality proportion) value for each association is reported within the arrow, and the directions refer to the cause-effect relationship (Blue: HP causes Trait; Red: Trait causes HP). The shade intensity of the arrows is proportional to the statistical significance (i.e., − log10(p-value)) of the gcp estimates. Image credit: Genome Medicine

Renato Polimanti, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the study, emphasized the value of large-scale genetic studies in understanding the biology and epidemiology of hearing problems in adults.

“Our results support that large-scale genetic studies are useful instruments to understand the biology and the epidemiology of hearing problems in adults”

–Renato Polimanti, PhD

The findings, published in Genome Medicine, have important implications for identifying potential molecular targets for drug development and developing novel strategies to identify older adults at risk of hearing loss. The study could also lead to changes in the assessment and treatment of hearing problems in older adults, as hearing loss can negatively impact communication and contribute to social isolation, resulting in significant health, psychosocial, and economic consequences that reduce the quality of life for those affected.



Source: Yale, Genome Medicine

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