Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Date of this Version



Journal of the American Academy of Audiology (March 2014) 25(3): 289–301. DOI: 10.3766/jaaa.25.3.8.


Copyright 2014, American Academy of Audiology. Used by permission.



A considerable amount of research has been published about genetic hearing impairment. Fifty to sixty percent of hearing loss is thought to have a genetic cause. Genes may also play a significant role in acquired hearing loss due to aging, noise exposure, or ototoxic medications. Between 1995 and 2012, over 100 causative genes have been identified for syndromic and nonsyndromic forms of hereditary hearing loss (see Hereditary Hearing Loss Homepage Mouse models have been extremely valuable in facilitating the discovery of hearing loss genes, and in understanding inner ear pathology due to genetic mutations or elucidating fundamental mechanisms of inner ear development.


Whereas much is being learned about hereditary hearing loss and the genetics of cochlear disorders, relatively little is known about the role genes may play in peripheral vestibular impairment. Here we review the literature with regard to genetics of vestibular dysfunction and discuss what we have learned from studies using mutant mouse models and direct measures of peripheral vestibular neural function.


Several genes are considered that when mutated lead to varying degrees of inner ear vestibular dysfunction due to deficits in otoconia, stereocilia, hair cells, or neurons. Behavior often does not reveal the inner ear deficit. Many of the examples presented are also known to cause human disorders.


Knowledge regarding the roles of particular genes in the operation of the vestibular sensory apparatus is growing and it is clear that gene products co-expressed in the cochlea and vestibule may play different roles in the respective end organs. The discovery of new genes mediating critical inner ear vestibular function carries the promise of new strategies in diagnosing, treating and managing patients as well as predicting the course and level of morbidity in human vestibular disease.