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A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language

Fisher, S. E. (2016). A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language. In G. Hickok, & S. Small (Eds.), Neurobiology of Language (pp. 13-24). Amsterdam: Elsevier. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-407794-2.00002-X.
The rise of genomic technologies has yielded exciting new routes for studying the biological foundations of language. Researchers have begun to identify genes implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders that disrupt speech and language skills. This chapter illustrates how such work can provide powerful entry points into the critical neural pathways using FOXP2 as an example. Rare mutations of this gene cause problems with learning to sequence mouth movements during speech, accompanied by wide-ranging impairments in language production and comprehension. FOXP2 encodes a regulatory protein, a hub in a network of other genes, several of which have also been associated with language-related impairments. Versions of FOXP2 are found in similar form in many vertebrate species; indeed, studies of animals and birds suggest conserved roles in the development and plasticity of certain sets of neural circuits. Thus, the contributions of this gene to human speech and language involve modifications of evolutionarily ancient functions.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


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