‘Language Gene’ Has a Partner
31 October 2013
Few genes have made the headlines as much as FOXP2.
The first gene associated with language disorders, it was later implicated in the evolution of human speech.
Girls make more of the FOXP2 protein, which may help explain their precociousness in learning to talk.
Now, neuroscientists have figured out how one of its molecular partners helps Foxp2 exert its effects.
The findings may eventually lead to new therapies for inherited speech disorders, says Richard Huganir, the neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who led the work.
Foxp2 controls the activity of a gene called Srpx2, he notes, which helps some of the brain’s nerve cells beef up their connections to other nerve cells.
Until 2001, scientists were not sure how genes influenced language.
Then Simon Fisher, a neurogeneticist now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and his colleagues fingered FOXP2 as the culprit in a family with several members who had trouble with pronunciation, putting words together, and understanding speech.
These people cannot move their tongue and lips precisely enough to talk clearly, so even family members often can’t figure out what they are saying.
his team still doesn’t know whether FOXP2 affects nerve cells that relate to language processing or nerve cells that control muscles involved in talking.
Still, he says the link to synapse formation via SRPX2 “is an important clue how FOXP2 could be regulating language development.”