Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can Viruses Cause Stuttering, Part 2?

If the viral hypothesis were correct, then the therapeutic treatment of stuttering would be drastically modified. In particular, anti-infective agents might be administered to tamp down any infection that may arouse an implicated retrovirus or to attack the retrovirus directly. One of the approaches that is being taken for schizophrenia is to indirectly neutralize the HERV-W retrovirus using the drug artemisinin. And in the case of multiple sclerosis, an antibody is being tested that attacks a primary virus protein.

In addition, the identification of prenatal care strategies or postnatal vaccinations could prevent infections that might put individuals on the path to stuttering. Infections in the mother prior to an infant's birth may put the infant into a high risk category. In which case, these infants might be identified and receive an appropriate therapeutic treatment to forestall the onset of stuttering.

I am always amazed at the glacial progress in medicine. Aside from relatively rare serendipitous discoveries that lead to punctuated advances of medical knowledge/treatment, the accretion of understanding of many ailments' causes and their treatment is a tediously slow process. For example, not too long ago, hemochromatosis--too much iron in the blood--killed people. And the remedy, when it was found involved something as simple as draining blood (e.g., by the use of leeches).

And so it is regarding the understanding of the causes and possible treatments of stuttering. Only recently was the dopamine hypothesis of stuttering taken seriously even though it was first put forward in the 1930's.

I suspect that any testing and/or acceptance of a viral hypothesis for stuttering might likewise be a protracted process. But if the current research concerning schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis bears fruit, then there will be impetus for examining other neurologically based ailments such as stuttering.

Granted it is very difficult to identify viruses or viral infections and associate their presences with specific medical problems as the Discovery magazine article attests. Nevertheless, it might be useful to engage in large scale epidemiological studies to identify correlates with stuttering. Epidemiology is the study of patterns of health and illness and associated factors at the population level. It informs evidence-based medicine in order to identify health care risk factors, approaches for preventative medicine, and optimal treatment regimens.

An epidemiological study of stuttering would involve both the collection of medical histories of people with this infliction as well as appropriate blood/bodily fluid/tissue samples. In addition, both functional and structural brain imaging should be conducted for a substantial proportion of subjects.

The idea behind an intensive epidemiological study would be to contribute to a causative theory of stuttering, to identify possible subgroups of stutterers, and to develop therapeutic approaches based on any new knowledge.


Gerald Maguire, MD said...

Thank you for writing your informative blog. In line with your comments on viral causes of stuttering, my group at UC Irvine just published a case of a young child who began stuttering following a bacterial infection. His symptoms resolved with antibiotic therapy. We describe this case a similar to PANDAS--a syndrome that has been associated with OCD and Tourette Syndrome. Our publication is in the November issue of the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry. We definitely need to investigate further the possible infection/immunologic response link in the etiology of stuttering.

Again, thank you for your stimulating discussions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this website because I truly believe that stuttering is caused from an infection. The relapse in stuttering follows days after an infection or being exposed to an infection from my spouse. The initial onset of stuttering for myself was 1 week following a really high fever. Titers to certain viruses showed to be positive for recent infection. Understanding the virus or if it was all three of them I am not sure.

speech therapy Orange County said...

This is such an informative post. If stuttering may be caused by viruses then not only will the treatment be modified but also the preventive measures. Let us just all hope that a very effective treatment or therapy for this condition will be developed so that those who are affected by it will be treated and have a brand new life! Thank you for sharing this post.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is extremely interesting. I have recently had 2children present with speech disorders that happened suddenly. Both had a very high temperature 40 c. Both children are boys and are aged 3 yrs and 8yrs. The 8year old told me he first had a problem when his temperature went very high, he felt very unwell and he lost the connection with what he wanted to say and how to say it. He said he couldn't say small easy words like I and it and feels he has forgotten how to speak some words.There was a marked delay and prolonged effort to say the words.. It is 2months since the illness and he still has a speech problem.
The 3year old has the same problem. He has started having long gaps between thinking the word and trying to say it. It's like he has a slow motion reaction to the word and has become frustrated that the word won't come out. In his case ,he can sing the words without any such problem. I would agree a virus may be the cause but wonder if there was some damage caused by the high temperature?

stutter-mind-body said...

See the blog posting entitled "The Cerebral Cortex and Stuttering Part 1." Sounds like the Wernicke and/or the Broca's area may have been affected. Best to consult a neurologist to confirm if the condition persists.

stutter-mind-body said...

In addition, a functional MRI may be warranted.