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Population Study Finds Genetic Links for Vertigo

Population genetics

(National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH)

21 Oct. 2021. A large-scale population genetics study finds several genetic variants associated with vertigo, a condition marked by dizziness and loss of balance. Findings from the HerediGene study — a joint initiative of Intermountain Healthcare, a western U.S. hospital system, and the genetic analytics company deCode Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland — appear in the 7 Oct. issue of the journal Communications Biology.

The HerediGene study is recruiting 500,000 participants in Intermountain Healthcare’s service area to provide blood samples for whole genome analysis by deCode Genetics. Intermountain is a regional health care system of 24 hospitals, 160 clinics, and some 23,000 clinicians serving the U.S. Mountain West. The network, headquartered in Salt Lake City, also includes a health insurance company and the Intermountain Biorepository storing some 4.5 million biological samples connected to decades of patient health records.

deCode Genetics, a subsidiary of drug maker Amgen, collects data from 160,000 volunteers in Iceland, more than half the country’s adult population. The company also assembles a genealogical database for the entire country going back 1,000 years to Iceland’s founding as an independent nation. These extensive data sets, combined with the high quality of universal health care in Iceland, says deCode, makes it possible to study most common diseases on a large scale, minimizing the selection bias that can occur in larger and more diverse populations.

Six genetic variations associated with vertigo

Researchers are using HerediGene data to find connections between genetics and disease. Participation in the study is free of charge and voluntary, with data provided to deCode Genetics de-identified to maintain participants’ privacy. Intermountain says the study analyzes entire genomes of participants, a much more comprehensive analysis than commercial genetics services that reveal ancestry and selected disease conditions. Science & Enterprise reported on the beginning of the study in June 2019.

In their paper, the HerediGene researchers focused on vertigo, a condition marked by dizziness caused by illusion of rotational motion. Vertigo is a symptom of disorders in the inner ear and brain that process sensory information for controlling balance. People with vertigo can experience dizziness from a few seconds to several days, and are at a high risk of falls. The researchers cite data showing the disorder affects some 6.5 percent of the population and increases in prevalence with age.

The study team performed a genome-wide analysis blood samples in the U.S., Iceland, the U.K., and Finland, with about 48,000 cases of vertigo, compared to some 894,500 controls. The analysis revealed, among people of European origin, variants of six separate genes associated with vertigo cases: ZNF91, OTOP1, OTOG, OTOGL, TECTA, and ARMC9. And while the researchers found more vertigo cases among people with age-related hearing loss and motion sickness, the team did not find a strong correlation between the six genetic variations linked to vertigo, and hearing loss or motion sickness.

“Vertigo is one of the leading causes of emergency room visits across our health system,” says Lincoln Nadauld, chief of precision health and academics for Intermountain Healthcare in a statement. “This discovery means we now have a much better understanding for why portions of our population experience these symptoms.” Nadauld adds that the findings can lead to tests and treatments for patients with vertigo.

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