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Absolute pitch exhibits phenotypic and genetic overlap with synesthesia

Gregersen, P. K., Kowalsky, E., Lee, A., Baron-Cohen, S., Fisher, S. E., Asher, J. E., Ballard, D., Freudenberg, J., & Li, W. (2013). Absolute pitch exhibits phenotypic and genetic overlap with synesthesia. Human Molecular Genetics, 22, 2097-2104. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddt059.
Absolute pitch and synesthesia are two uncommon cognitive traits that reflect increased neuronal connectivity and have been anecdotally reported to occur together in a same individual. Here we systematically evaluate the occurrence of syesthesia in a population of 768 subjects with documented absolute pitch. Out of these 768 subjects, 151(20.1%) reported synesthesia, most commonly with color. These self-reports of synesthesia were validated in a subset of 21 study subjects using an established methodology. We further carried out combined linkage analysis of 53 multiplex families with absolute pitch and 36 multiplex families with synesthesia. We observed a peak NPL LOD=4.68 on chromosome 6q, as well as evidence of linkage on chromosome 2 using a dominant model. These data establish the close phenotypic and genetic relationship between absolute pitch and synesthesia. The chromosome 6 linkage region contains 73 genes; several leading candidate genes involved in neurodevelopment were investigated by exon resequencing. However, further studies will be required to definitively establish the identity of the causative gene(s) in the region.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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