Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genetic Study Provides New Insights Into Molecular Basis Of Language Development

Date:
November 9, 2008
Source:
Wellcome Trust
Summary:
Scientists have identified the first gene that is associated with a common childhood language disorder, known as specific language impairment (SLI). The gene -- CNTNAP2 -- has also been recently implicated in autism, and could represent a crucial genetic link between the two disorders.

Scientists have identified the first gene that is associated with a common childhood language disorder, known as specific language impairment (SLI). The gene – CNTNAP2 – has also been recently implicated in autism, and could represent a crucial genetic link between the two disorders.

Related Articles


Although most children acquire proficient spoken language almost automatically and with little conscious effort, a significant number develop unexplained difficulties in producing and understanding language. SLI is the most common such disorder, affecting up to 7% of pre-school children.

In a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, discovered that particular variants of the CNTNAP2 gene were significantly associated with language deficits in a large sample of families with SLI.

"It has long been suspected that inherited factors play an important role in childhood language disorders," says Dr Simon Fisher, a Royal Society Research Fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre, who led the research. "But this is the first time that we have been able to implicate variants of a specific gene in common forms of language impairment."

The trail to this new finding began with studies of another language-related gene, called FOXP2, previously found to be mutated in rare cases of a severe speech and language disorder. Versions of FOXP2 are found in many animals, including primates, birds, bats and mice. In birds, for example, it has been linked to song, in mice to learning of sequences of movement, and in bats it may relate to echo-location.

FOXP2 acts to regulate other genes in the brain, switching them on and off. Dr Fisher and colleagues began analysing human neurons grown in the laboratory in order to search for these target genes. They identified CNTNAP2 as a key part of the network.

When the scientists went on to investigate CNTNAP2 in 184 families with common language impairments, they found that children who carried certain variants of the gene displayed reduced language abilities, most strikingly for a measure of nonsense-word repetition that is known to be a strong indicator of SLI.

Recent studies have also implicated CNTNAP2 in autism, a syndrome characterised by communication deficits, impaired social interaction, and repetitive behaviours. In particular, one investigation uncovered an association between variants of CNTNAP2 and delayed language development in children with autism.

"Our findings suggest that similar changes in the regulation or function of this gene could be involved in language deficits in both SLI and autism," says Dr Fisher. "This supports the emerging view that autism involves the convergence of a number of distinct problems underpinned by different genetic effects."

Professor Dorothy Bishop, a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, who specialises in the study of children's communication impairments, comments: "All too often parents of language-impaired children are blamed for their children's difficulties, even though the evidence has been around for a while that genes are implicated. These are important yet neglected disorders that can have long term effects on educational and social outcomes. This landmark study provides an important first step in unravelling the complex biological factors that determine susceptibility to language difficulties."

It is not yet known exactly how changes to CNTNAP2 interfere with language development, but there are some tantalising clues. The gene makes a type of protein called a neurexin, which sits in the membranes of neurons, controlling interactions between different cells during the development and wiring up of the nervous system. In early development, the protein appears to be strongly expressed in parts of the human brain which go on to become important for language processing, such as the frontal lobes.

The researchers are now investigating whether variations in CNTNAP2 contribute to natural variation in linguistic abilities in the general population.

"Genes like CNTNAP2 and FOXP2 are giving us an exciting new molecular perspective on speech and language development, one of the most fascinating but mysterious aspects of being human," says Dr. Fisher "There are likely to be more answers buried in our genome. This work promises to shed light on how networks of genes help to build a language-ready brain."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wellcome Trust. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wellcome Trust. "Genetic Study Provides New Insights Into Molecular Basis Of Language Development." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081105180803.htm>.
Wellcome Trust. (2008, November 9). Genetic Study Provides New Insights Into Molecular Basis Of Language Development. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081105180803.htm
Wellcome Trust. "Genetic Study Provides New Insights Into Molecular Basis Of Language Development." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081105180803.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

You Don't Have To Be Alcohol Dependent To Need Treatment

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 9 out of 10 excessive drinkers in the country are not alcohol dependent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins