A team of scientists from King’s College London, University College London and the University of Manchester has identified 44 genes linked to age-related hearing loss.
Age-related hearing impairment is the most common sensory impairment in the aging population; a third of individuals are affected by disabling hearing loss by the age of 65.
It causes social isolation and depression and has recently been identified as a risk factor for dementia.
Despite being a common impairment in the elderly, little is known about the causes of the hearing loss and the only treatment option available is hearing aids which are often not worn once prescribed.
“We now know that very many genes are involved in the loss of hearing as we age,” said King’s College London Professor Frances Williams, co-lead author of the study.
“This study identified a few genes that we already know cause deafness in children, but it also revealed lots of additional novel genes which point to new biological pathways in hearing.”
In the study, Professor Williams and colleagues analyzed the genetic data from over 250,000 participants of the UK Biobank aged 40-69 years to see which genes were associated with people who had reported having or not having hearing problems on questionnaire. In total, the researchers identified 44 genes.
“Before our study, only five genes had been identified as predictors of age-related hearing loss, so our findings herald a nine-fold increase in independent genetic markers,” said University College London’s Dr. Sally Dawson, University College London.
“We hope that our findings will help drive forward research into much-needed new therapies for the millions of people worldwide affected by hearing loss as they age.”
The study authors now plan to investigate how each identified gene influences the auditory pathway, providing opportunities to develop new treatments.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Helena R.R. Wells et al. GWAS Identifies 44 Independent Associated Genomic Loci for Self-Reported Adult Hearing Difficulty in UK Biobank. American Journal of Human Genetics, published online September 26, 2019; doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2019.09.008