Scientists have identified a gene which controls specific aspects of human touch and a ‘sixth sense’ that describes awareness of one’s body in space.
The study was conducted on two young patients- one nine and the other 19-years-old — who were diagnosed with progressive scoliosis — a unique neurological disorder in which a person’s spine has a sideways curve.
Mutations in the gene caused the two to have movement and balance problems and the loss of some forms of touch. Despite their difficulties, they both appeared to cope with these challenges by relying heavily on vision and other senses.
“Our study highlights the critical importance of PIEZO2 and the senses it controls in our daily lives,” said Carsten G Bonnemann, from the US National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
“The results establish that PIEZO2 is a touch and proprioception gene in humans. Understanding its role in these senses may provide clues to a variety of neurological disorders,” he said.
Further examinations suggested that the patients also lacked body awareness. They could not feel vibrations from a buzzing tuning fork. Nor could they tell the difference between one or two small ends of a caliper pressed firmly against their palms.