Scientists have pinpointed a large number of genes that are reliably associated with dyslexia. As per a new study, around a third of the 42 genetic variants identified have been previously linked to general cognitive ability and educational attainment. The study, led by the University of Edinburgh, is the largest genetic study of dyslexia to date.
The researchers say their findings, published in Nature Genetics journal, will help in the understanding of the biology behind why some children struggle to read or spell.
Dyslexia is known to run in families – partly because of genetic factors – but, until now, little was known about the specific genes that relate to the risk of it developing.
The latest study involved more than 50,000 adults who have been diagnosed with dyslexia and more than one million adults who have not.
Researchers tested the association between millions of genetic variants with dyslexia status and found 42 significant variants. They said that som was associated with other neurodevelopment conditions, such as language delay, and with thinking skills and academic achievement. Many, however, are novel and could represent genes that more specifically associate with processes essential for learning to read.
Many of the genes associated with dyslexia are also associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it added. A much smaller overlap of the genes associated with dyslexia was found for psychiatric, lifestyle, and health conditions.
Researchers say they were able to predict how well children and adults from four other research studies can read and spell using the genetic information from the study, but not with the accuracy needed for diagnostic use.
Lead researcher Michelle Luciano, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, says the study sheds light on many unanswered questions about dyslexia.
“Our findings show that common genetic differences have very similar effects in boys and girls and that there is a genetic link between dyslexia and ambidexterity,” says Dr Luciano. “Previous work suggested some brain structures may be altered in people with dyslexia, but we did not find evidence that genes explain this.”
Luciano added, “Our results also suggest that dyslexia is very closely genetically related to performance on reading and spelling tests reinforcing the importance of standardised testing in identifying dyslexia.”
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