UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Hereditary Whispering Dystonia gene identified

20 December 2012

A genetic study at UCL Institute of Neurology has identified the gene responsible for a rare form of dystonia called ‘hereditary whispering dysphonia’ or DYT4. The study found that a mutation in the autoregulatory domain of the β-tubulin 4a gene (TUBB4a) is responsible for this disease which is known to affect a large family who emigrated to Australia from the UK in the late 19th century.

This unusual form of dystonia is characterised by a progressive limb and cervical dystonia together with a severe dysphonia which resulted in most of the affected individuals being unable to speak and who exhibited an unusual ‘hobby horse’ gait. This was first reported by the late Neville Parker in 1985 who instigated a collaboration with Anita Harding to try to identify the genetic cause of this disease in this family. Using the exome sequencing platform at ION together with a robust genetic linkage study, a team led by Prof Henry Houlden has identified the causative gene, with the results now published in the Annals of Neurology.

The mutation is located within a very small region of the TUBB4a protein that is important in auto-regulating the levels of TUBB4a mRNA. As part of previous work published in 1988 in Nature, it was shown that mutations in this region result in a loss of this autoregulatory function. This disease mechanism has not hitherto been reported and provides further insight into the pathogenesis of dystonia in general.