A gene implicated in speech regulates connectivity of the developing brain

July 7, 2011

Foxp2, a gene involved in speech and language, helps regulate the wiring of neurons in the brain, according to a study which will be published on July 7th in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics. The researchers identified this functional link by first identifying the major targets of Foxp2 in developing brain tissue and then analysing the function of relevant neurons.

Foxp2 codes for a that provides a window into unusual aspects of . In 2001, scientists discovered that of the human gene cause a rare form of speech and language disorder. The finding triggered a decade of intense research into the and corresponding versions found in other species – for example, it has been shown to affect vocal imitation in songbirds, and learning of rapid movement sequences in mice.

In the study, the researchers, led by Dr. Sonja C. Vernes and Dr. Simon E. Fisher (The Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford), gained insights into the functions of Foxp2 within the developing brain by exploiting its role as a genetic dimmer switch, turning up or down the amount of product made by other genes. In their large-scale screening of embryonic , they identified many novel targets regulated by Foxp2. Remarkably, many of these targets were known to be important for connectivity of the central nervous system. The team went on to show that changing Foxp2 levels in neurons impacted on the length and branching of neuronal projections, a key route for modulating the wiring of the developing brain.

"Studies like this are crucial for building bridges between genes and complex aspects of brain function" says Dr. Fisher, who is also director of a newly established Language and Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands. The research was carried out with mouse models, since they can be used to comprehensively analyse genetic networks in a way that remains difficult in the human brain. However, "the current study provides the most thorough characterisation of Foxp2 target pathways to date," notes Dr. Fisher. "It offers a number of compelling new candidate genes that could be investigated in people with language problems."

Explore further: Bats add their voice to the FOXP2 story

More information: Vernes SC, Oliver PL, Spiteri E, Lockstone HE, Puliyadi R, et al. (2011) Foxp2 Regulates Gene Networks Implicated in Neurite Outgrowth in the Developing Brain. PLoS Genet 7(7): e1002145. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002145

Related Stories

Bats add their voice to the FOXP2 story

September 19, 2007

When it comes to the FOXP2 gene, humans have had most to shout about. Discoveries that mutations in this gene lead to speech defects and that the gene underwent changes around the time language evolved both implicate FOXP2 ...

Why can we talk? 'Humanized' mice speak volumes

May 28, 2009

Mice carrying a "humanized version" of a gene believed to influence speech and language may not actually talk, but they nonetheless do have a lot to say about our evolutionary past, according to a report in the May 29th issue ...

Mouse Model Provides Clues to Human Language Development

June 24, 2009

Scientists of the German Mouse Clinic at Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen (Germany) have made a major contribution to understanding human language development. Using a comprehensive screening method, they studied a mouse model ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover otulipenia, a new inflammatory disease

August 22, 2016

National Institutes of Health researchers have discovered a rare and sometimes lethal inflammatory disease - otulipenia - that primarily affects young children. They have also identified anti-inflammatory treatments that ...

Solving the mystery of meningiomas reveals a surprise twist

August 23, 2016

In solving one mystery—the genetic roots of benign brain tumors called meningiomas—a team of scientists led by Yale researchers stumbled upon an even greater one: How is it possible that two of the mutations linked to ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

hush1
not rated yet Jul 09, 2011
Congratulations.

"Studies like this are crucial for building bridges between genes and complex aspects of brain function" - Dr. Fisher, director of a newly established Language and Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands.

"It offers a number of compelling new candidate genes that could be investigated in people with language problems."

You know you can approach this from the opposite end as well.
Investigating target FOXp2 pathways in people EXCELLING in 15 or more languages simultaneously.

I'll simply assume this is already under investigation.

Of course , it goes without saying that you can speculate that FOXp2 pathways applies to ALL life forms exhibiting an ability for sound pattern recognition and association as an explanation for an evolution of acoustical languages in ALL life forms capable of this.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.