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Bad driving linked to genes

Next time you encounter a rash driver on road, don't go berserk and start abusing - rather blame their genes for the bad driving skills, says a new study. Read on to know more.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 30, 2009 17:24 IST

Next time you encounter a rash driver on road, don't go berserk and start abusing - rather blame their genes for the bad driving skills, says a new study.

The study found that people with a particular gene variant performed more than 20 per cent worse on a driving test than people without it and a follow-up test a few days later yielded similar results.

"These people make more errors from the get-go, and they forget more of what they learned after time away," said Dr. Steven Cramer, neurology associate professor and senior author of the study.

The gene variant limits the availability of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor during activity. BDNF keeps memory strong by supporting communication among brain cells and keeping them functioning optimally. When a person is engaged in a particular task, BDNF is secreted in the brain area connected with that activity to help the body respond.

Previous studies have shown that in people with the variant, a smaller portion of the brain is stimulated when doing a task than in those with a normal BDNF gene. People with the variant also don't recover as well after a stroke.

These differences led the scientists to wonder if the variant could affect an activity such as driving as well.

"We wanted to study motor behavior, something more complex than finger-tapping. Driving seemed like a good choice because it has a learning curve and it's something most people know how to do," said Stephanie McHughen, graduate student and lead author of the study.

For the study, 29 people took the driving test - 22 without the gene variant and seven with it. They were asked to drive 15 laps on a simulator that required them to learn the nuances of a track programmed to have difficult curves and turns. Researchers recorded how well they stayed on the course over time.

Four days later, the test was repeated. It was found that people with the variant did worse on both tests than the other participants, and they remembered less the second time.

"Behaviour derives from dozens and dozens of neurophysiologic events, so it's somewhat surprising this exercise bore fruit," said Cramer.