NIDCD Fact Sheet
u.s. department of health & human services ∙ national institutes of health ∙ national institute on deafness and other communication disorders
What is Usher syndrome?
Usher syndrome is the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision. A syndrome is a disease or disorder that has more than one feature or symptom. The major symptoms of Usher syndrome are hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP. RP causes night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision (side vision) through the progressive degeneration of the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye and is crucial for vision (see photograph). As RP progresses, the field of vision narrows—a condition known as “tunnel vision”—until only central vision (the ability to see straight ahead) remains. Many people with Usher syndrome also have severe balance problems. There are three clinical types of Usher syndrome: type 1, type 2, and type 3. In the United States, types 1 and 2 are the most common types. Together, they account for approximately 90 to 95 percent of all cases of children who have Usher syndrome.
Who is affected by Usher syndrome?
Approximately 3 to 6 percent of all children who are deaf and another 3 to 6 percent of children who are hard-of-hearing have Usher syndrome. In developed countries such as the United States, about four babies in every 100,000 births have Usher syndrome.
What causes Usher syndrome?
Usher syndrome is inherited, which means that it is passed from parents to their children through genes. Genes are located in almost every cell of the body. Genes contain instructions that tell cells what to do. Every person inherits two copies of each gene, one from each parent. Sometimes genes are altered, or mutated. Mutated genes may cause cells to act differently than expected. Usher syndrome is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. The term autosomal means that the mutated gene is not located on either of the chromosomes
Photograph of the retina of a patient with Usher syndrome (left) compared to a normal retina (right). The optic nerve (arrow) looks very pale, the vessels (stars) are very thin, and there is characteristic pigment, called bone spicules (double arrows).
NIDCD Fact Sheet
Chances of Inheriting a Recessive Disorder
that determine a person’s sex; in other words, both males and females can have the disorder and can pass it along to a child. The word recessive means that, to have Usher syndrome, a person must receive a mutated form of the Usher syndrome gene from each parent. If a child has a mutation in one Usher syndrome gene but the other gene is normal, he or she is predicted to have normal vision and hearing. People with a mutation in a gene that can cause an autosomal recessive disorder are called carriers because they “carry” the gene with a mutation, but show no symptoms of the disorder. If both parents are carriers of a mutated gene for Usher syndrome, they will have a one-in-four chance of having a child with Usher syndrome with each birth. (See sidebar on “Chances of Inheriting a Recessive Disorder.”) Usually, parents who have normal hearing and vision do not know if they are carriers of an Usher syndrome gene mutation. Currently, it is not possible to determine whether a person who does not have a family history of Usher syndrome is a carrier. Scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders are hoping to change this, however, as they learn more about the genes responsible for Usher syndrome.
Genetic disorders can be caused by one or more changes in a gene. Every individual has two copies of the same gene. Genetic disorders are inherited in different ways. Usher syndrome is a recessive disorder. Recessive means: • A person must inherit a change in the same gene from each parent in order to have the disorder. • A...
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