First example of a heritable abnormality affecting semantic cognition found

June 19, 2012

Four generations of a single family have been found to possess an abnormality within a specific brain region which appears to affect their ability to recall verbal material, a new study by researchers at the University of Bristol and University College London has found.

This is the first suggestion of a heritable abnormality in otherwise healthy humans, and this has important implications for our understanding of the of cognition.

Dr Josie Briscoe of Bristol's School of and colleagues at the Institute of Child Health in London studied eight members of a single family (aged 8 years), who despite all having high levels of intelligence have since childhood, experienced profound difficulties in recalling sentences and prose, and language difficulties in listening comprehension and naming less common objects .

While their conversation is articulate and engaging, they can experience the inability to 'find' a particular word or topic – a phenomenon similar to the 'tip-of-the-tongue' problem experienced by many people. They also report associated problems such as struggling to follow a narrative thread while reading or watching television drama.

Dr Briscoe said: "With their consent, we conducted a number of standard memory and language tests on the affected members of the family. These showed they had difficulty repeating longer sentences correctly and learning words in lists and pairs. This suggests their difficulties lie in semantic cognition: the way people construct and generate meaning from words, objects and ideas."

"Given the very wide variation in age, the coherence of their difficulties in semantic cognition was remarkable."

The researchers also used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to study the brains of the affected family members and found they had reduced grey matter in the posterior inferior portion of the temporal lobe, a brain area known to be involved in semantic cognition.

Dr Briscoe said: "These brain abnormalities were surprising to find in healthy people, particularly in the same family, although similar have been implicated in research with older adults with neurological problems that are linked to semantic cognition"

"Our findings have uncovered a potential causal link between anomalous neuroanatomy and semantic cognition in a single . Importantly, the pattern of inheritance appears as a potentially dominant trait. This may well prove to be the first example of a heritable, highly specific abnormality affecting semantic cognition in humans."

Explore further: Musical study challenges long-held view of left brain-right brain split

More information: The research is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Related Stories

Musical study challenges long-held view of left brain-right brain split

June 4, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Ever been stuck in traffic when a feel-good song comes on the radio and suddenly your mood lightens?

The 'Google' theory of autism -- a new approach to the enigma

September 1, 2011
What hides behind the enigma of autism? Dr. John Skoyles of University College London, in a paper published this September in Autism Research and Treatment, identifies the type of information used to process synonyms and ...

Dementia patients reveal how we construct a picture of the future

May 23, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Our ability to imagine and plan our future depends on brain regions that store general knowledge, new research shows.

Recommended for you

Investigating the most common genetic contributor to Parkinson's disease

October 19, 2017
LRRK2 gene mutations are the most common genetic cause of Parkinson's disease (PD), but the normal physiological role of this gene in the brain remains unclear. In a paper published in Neuron, Brigham and Women's Hospital ...

Brain training can improve our understanding of speech in noisy places

October 19, 2017
For many people with hearing challenges, trying to follow a conversation in a crowded restaurant or other noisy venue is a major struggle, even with hearing aids. Now researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 19th ...

Brain takes seconds to switch modes during tasks

October 19, 2017
The brain rapidly switches between operational modes in response to tasks and what is replayed can predict how well a task will be completed, according to a new UCL study in rats.

Researchers find shifting relationship between flexibility, modularity in the brain

October 19, 2017
A new study by Rice University researchers takes a step toward what they see as key to the advance of neuroscience: a better understanding of the relationship between the brain's flexibility and its modularity.

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

October 19, 2017
Researchers at the University of Tübingen have become the first to keep human brain tissue alive outside the body for several weeks. The researchers, headed by Dr. Niklas Schwarz, Dr. Henner Koch and Dr. Thomas Wuttke at ...

Want to control your dreams? Here's how

October 19, 2017
New research at the University of Adelaide has found that a specific combination of techniques will increase people's chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they're dreaming while it's still happening ...

0 comments

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.