July 12, 2011

Speech Gene Regulates Brain?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Researchers have found the gene known as Foxp2 helps regulate the wiring of neurons in the brain.

In 2001, scientists discovered that mutations of Foxp2 cause a rare form of speech and language disorder. This finding prompted years of intense research into the human gene and corresponding versions found in other species.

In this new study, investigators exploited Foxp2's role as a genetic dimmer switch, turning up or down the amount of product made by other genes. The research was conducted in mouse models since they can be used to analyze genetic networks in a way that is difficult to do in the human brain.

The investigators identified novel targets regulated by Foxp2 in their large-scale screening of embryonic brain tissue and found many of these targets were important for connectivity of the central nervous system. The scientists also found that changing Foxp2 levels in neurons impacted the length and branching of neuronal projections, which is 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," Dr. Simon E. Fisher, from The Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, and director of a newly-established Language and Genetics department at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands, was quoted as saying. "The current study provides the most thorough characterization of Foxp2 target pathways to date."

Dr. Fisher went on to say: "It offers a number of compelling new candidate genes that could be investigated in people with language problems."

SOURCE: PLos Genetics, July, 2011