These are the publications of the Neurogenetics of Vocal Communication Group
Displaying 1 - 65 of 65
D’Onofrio, G., Accogli, A., Severino, M., Caliskan, H., Kokotović, T., Blazekovic, A., Jercic, K. G., Markovic, S., Zigman, T., Goran, K., Barišić, N., Duranovic, V., Ban, A., Borovecki, F., Ramadža, D. P., Barić, I., Fazeli, W., Herkenrath, P., Marini, C., Vittorini, R. and 30 moreD’Onofrio, G., Accogli, A., Severino, M., Caliskan, H., Kokotović, T., Blazekovic, A., Jercic, K. G., Markovic, S., Zigman, T., Goran, K., Barišić, N., Duranovic, V., Ban, A., Borovecki, F., Ramadža, D. P., Barić, I., Fazeli, W., Herkenrath, P., Marini, C., Vittorini, R., Gowda, V., Bouman, A., Rocca, C., Alkhawaja, I. A., Murtaza, B. N., Rehman, M. M. U., Al Alam, C., Nader, G., Mancardi, M. M., Giacomini, T., Srivastava, S., Alvi, J. R., Tomoum, H., Matricardi, S., Iacomino, M., Riva, A., Scala, M., Madia, F., Pistorio, A., Salpietro, V., Minetti, C., Rivière, J.-B., Srour, M., Efthymiou, S., Maroofian, R., Houlden, H., Vernes, S. C., Zara, F., Striano, P., & Nagy, V. (2023). Genotype–phenotype correlation in contactin-associated protein-like 2 (CNTNAP-2) developmental disorder. Human Genetics, 142, 909-925. doi:10.1007/s00439-023-02552-2.
AbstractContactin-associated protein-like 2 (CNTNAP2) gene encodes for CASPR2, a presynaptic type 1 transmembrane protein, involved in cell–cell adhesion and synaptic interactions. Biallelic CNTNAP2 loss has been associated with “Pitt-Hopkins-like syndrome-1” (MIM#610042), while the pathogenic role of heterozygous variants remains controversial. We report 22 novel patients harboring mono- (n = 2) and bi-allelic (n = 20) CNTNAP2 variants and carried out a literature review to characterize the genotype–phenotype correlation. Patients (M:F 14:8) were aged between 3 and 19 years and affected by global developmental delay (GDD) (n = 21), moderate to profound intellectual disability (n = 17) and epilepsy (n = 21). Seizures mainly started in the first two years of life (median 22.5 months). Antiseizure medications were successful in controlling the seizures in about two-thirds of the patients. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or other neuropsychiatric comorbidities were present in nine patients (40.9%). Nonspecific midline brain anomalies were noted in most patients while focal signal abnormalities in the temporal lobes were noted in three subjects. Genotype–phenotype correlation was performed by also including 50 previously published patients (15 mono- and 35 bi-allelic variants). Overall, GDD (p < 0.0001), epilepsy (p < 0.0001), hyporeflexia (p = 0.012), ASD (p = 0.009), language impairment (p = 0.020) and severe cognitive impairment (p = 0.031) were significantly associated with the presence of biallelic versus monoallelic variants. We have defined the main features associated with biallelic CNTNAP2 variants, as severe cognitive impairment, epilepsy and behavioral abnormalities. We propose CASPR2-deficiency neurodevelopmental disorder as an exclusively recessive disease while the contribution of heterozygous variants is less likely to follow an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern.
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Paulat, N. S., Storer, J. M., Moreno-Santillán, D. D., Osmanski, A. B., Sullivan, K. A. M., Grimshaw, J. R., Korstian, J., Halsey, M., Garcia, C. J., Crookshanks, C., Roberts, J., Smit, A. F. A., Hubley, R., Rosen, J., Teeling, E. C., Vernes, S. C., Myers, E., Pippel, M., Brown, T., Hiller, M. and 5 morePaulat, N. S., Storer, J. M., Moreno-Santillán, D. D., Osmanski, A. B., Sullivan, K. A. M., Grimshaw, J. R., Korstian, J., Halsey, M., Garcia, C. J., Crookshanks, C., Roberts, J., Smit, A. F. A., Hubley, R., Rosen, J., Teeling, E. C., Vernes, S. C., Myers, E., Pippel, M., Brown, T., Hiller, M., Zoonomia Consortium, Rojas, D., Dávalos, L. M., Lindblad-Toh, K., Karlsson, E. K., & Ray, D. A. (2023). Chiropterans are a hotspot for horizontal transfer of DNA transposons in mammalia. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 40(5): msad092. doi:10.1093/molbev/msad092.
AbstractHorizontal transfer of transposable elements (TEs) is an important mechanism contributing to genetic diversity and innovation. Bats (order Chiroptera) have repeatedly been shown to experience horizontal transfer of TEs at what appears to be a high rate compared with other mammals. We investigated the occurrence of horizontally transferred (HT) DNA transposons involving bats. We found over 200 putative HT elements within bats; 16 transposons were shared across distantly related mammalian clades, and 2 other elements were shared with a fish and two lizard species. Our results indicate that bats are a hotspot for horizontal transfer of DNA transposons. These events broadly coincide with the diversification of several bat clades, supporting the hypothesis that DNA transposon invasions have contributed to genetic diversification of bats.
Rutz, C., Bronstein, M., Raskin, A., Vernes, S. C., Zacarian, K., & Blasi, D. E. (2023). Using machine learning to decode animal communication. Science, 381(6654), 152-155. doi:10.1126/science.adg7314.
AbstractThe past few years have seen a surge of interest in using machine learning (ML) methods for studying the behavior of nonhuman animals (hereafter “animals”) (1). A topic that has attracted particular attention is the decoding of animal communication systems using deep learning and other approaches (2). Now is the time to tackle challenges concerning data availability, model validation, and research ethics, and to embrace opportunities for building collaborations across disciplines and initiatives.
Scherz, M. D., Schmidt, R., Brown, J. L., Glos, J., Lattenkamp, E. Z., Rakotomalala, Z., Rakotoarison, A., Rakotonindrina, R. T., Randriamalala, O., Raselimanana, A. P., Rasolonjatovo, S. M., Ratsoavina, F. M., Razafindraibe, J. H., Glaw, F., & Vences, M. (2023). Repeated divergence of amphibians and reptiles across an elevational gradient in northern Madagascar. Ecology and Evolution, 13(3): e9914. doi:10.1002/ece3.9914.
AbstractHow environmental factors shape patterns of biotic diversity in tropical ecosystems is an active field of research, but studies examining the possibility of ecological speciation in terrestrial tropical ecosystems are scarce. We use the isolated rainforest herpetofauna on the Montagne d'Ambre (Amber Mountain) massif in northern Madagascar as a model to explore elevational divergence at the level of populations and communities. Based on intensive sampling and DNA barcoding of amphibians and reptiles along a transect ranging from ca. 470–1470 m above sea level (a.s.l.), we assessed a main peak in species richness at an elevation of ca. 1000 m a.s.l. with 41 species. The proportion of local endemics was highest (about 1/3) at elevations >1100 m a.s.l. Two species of chameleons (Brookesia tuberculata, Calumma linotum) and two species of frogs (Mantidactylus bellyi, M. ambony) studied in depth by newly developed microsatellite markers showed genetic divergence up the slope of the mountain, some quite strong, others very weak, but in each case with genetic breaks between 1100 and 1270 m a.s.l. Genetic clusters were found in transect sections significantly differing in bioclimate and herpetological community composition. A decrease in body size was detected in several species with increasing elevation. The studied rainforest amphibians and reptiles show concordant population genetic differentiation across elevation along with morphological and niche differentiation. Whether this parapatric or microallopatric differentiation will suffice for the completion of speciation is, however, unclear, and available phylogeographic evidence rather suggests that a complex interplay between ecological and allopatric divergence processes is involved in generating the extraordinary species diversity of Madagascar's biota. Our study reveals concordant patterns of diversification among main elevational bands, but suggests that these adaptational processes are only part of the complex of processes leading to species formation, among which geographical isolation is probably also important.
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Anijs, M., Devanna, P., & Vernes, S. C. (2022). ARHGEF39, a gene implicated in developmental language disorder, activates RHOA and is involved in cell de-adhesion and neural progenitor cell proliferation. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 15: 941494. doi:10.3389/fnmol.2022.941494.
AbstractARHGEF39 was previously implicated in developmental language disorder (DLD) via a functional polymorphism that can disrupt post-transcriptional regulation by microRNAs. ARHGEF39 is part of the family of Rho guanine nucleotide exchange factors (RhoGEFs) that activate small Rho GTPases to regulate a wide variety of cellular processes. However, little is known about the function of ARHGEF39, or how its function might contribute to neurodevelopment or related disorders. Here, we explore the molecular function of ARHGEF39 and show that it activates the Rho GTPase RHOA and that high ARHGEF39 expression in cell cultures leads to an increase of detached cells. To explore its role in neurodevelopment, we analyse published single cell RNA-sequencing data and demonstrate that ARHGEF39 is a marker gene for proliferating neural progenitor cells and that it is co-expressed with genes involved in cell division. This suggests a role for ARHGEF39 in neurogenesis in the developing brain. The co-expression of ARHGEF39 with other RHOA-regulating genes supports RHOA as substrate of ARHGEF39 in neural cells, and the involvement of RHOA in neuropsychiatric disorders highlights a potential link between ARHGEF39 and neurodevelopment and disorder. Understanding the GTPase substrate, co-expression network, and processes downstream of ARHGEF39 provide new avenues for exploring the mechanisms by which altered expression levels of ARHGEF39 may contribute to neurodevelopment and associated disorders.
Doronina, L., Hughes, G. M., Moreno-Santillan, D., Lawless, C., Lonergan, T., Ryan, L., Jebb, D., Kirilenko, B. M., Korstian, J. M., Dávalos, L. M., Vernes, S. C., Myers, E. W., Teeling, E. C., Hiller, M., Jermiin, L. S., Schmitz, J., Springer, M. S., & Ray, D. A. (2022). Contradictory phylogenetic signals in the laurasiatheria anomaly zone. Genes, 13(5): 766. doi:10.3390/genes13050766.
AbstractRelationships among laurasiatherian clades represent one of the most highly disputed topics in mammalian phylogeny. In this study, we attempt to disentangle laurasiatherian interordinal relationships using two independent genome-level approaches: (1) quantifying retrotransposon presence/absence patterns, and (2) comparisons of exon datasets at the levels of nucleotides and amino acids. The two approaches revealed contradictory phylogenetic signals, possibly due to a high level of ancestral incomplete lineage sorting. The positions of Eulipotyphla and Chiroptera as the first and second earliest divergences were consistent across the approaches. However, the phylogenetic relationships of Perissodactyla, Cetartiodactyla, and Ferae, were contradictory. While retrotransposon insertion analyses suggest a clade with Cetartiodactyla and Ferae, the exon dataset favoured Cetartiodactyla and Perissodactyla. Future analyses of hitherto unsampled laurasiatherian lineages and synergistic analyses of retrotransposon insertions, exon and conserved intron/intergenic sequences might unravel the conflicting patterns of relationships in this major mammalian clade.
Formenti, G., Theissinger, K., Fernandes, C., Bista, I., Bombarely, A., Bleidorn, C., Ciofi, C., Crottini, A., Godoy, J. A., Höglund, J., Malukiewicz, J., Mouton, A., Oomen, R. A., Sadye, P., Palsbøll, P. J., Pampoulie, C., Ruiz-López, M. J., Svardal, H., Theofanopoulou, C., De Vries, J. and 6 moreFormenti, G., Theissinger, K., Fernandes, C., Bista, I., Bombarely, A., Bleidorn, C., Ciofi, C., Crottini, A., Godoy, J. A., Höglund, J., Malukiewicz, J., Mouton, A., Oomen, R. A., Sadye, P., Palsbøll, P. J., Pampoulie, C., Ruiz-López, M. J., Svardal, H., Theofanopoulou, C., De Vries, J., Waldvogel, A.-M., Zhang, G., Mazzoni, C. J., Jarvis, E. D., Bálint, M., & European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA) Consortium (2022). The era of reference genomes in conservation genomics. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 37(3), 197-202. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2021.11.008.
AbstractProgress in genome sequencing now enables the large-scale generation of reference genomes. Various international initiatives aim to generate reference genomes representing global biodiversity. These genomes provide unique insights into genomic diversity and architecture, thereby enabling comprehensive analyses of population and functional genomics, and are expected to revolutionize conservation genomics.
Hoeksema, N., Hagoort, P., & Vernes, S. C. (2022). Piecing together the building blocks of the vocal learning bat brain. In A. Ravignani, R. Asano, D. Valente, F. Ferretti, S. Hartmann, M. Hayashi, Y. Jadoul, M. Martins, Y. Oseki, E. D. Rodrigues, O. Vasileva, & S. Wacewicz (
Eds.), The evolution of language: Proceedings of the Joint Conference on Language Evolution (JCoLE) (pp. 294-296). Nijmegen: Joint Conference on Language Evolution (JCoLE).
Vernes, S. C., Devanna, P., Hörpel, S. G., Alvarez van Tussenbroek, I., Firzlaff, U., Hagoort, P., Hiller, M., Hoeksema, N., Hughes, G. M., Lavrichenko, K., Mengede, J., Morales, A. E., & Wiesmann, M. (2022). The pale spear‐nosed bat: A neuromolecular and transgenic model for vocal learning. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1517, 125-142. doi:10.1111/nyas.14884.
AbstractVocal learning, the ability to produce modified vocalizations via learning from acoustic signals, is a key trait in the evolution of speech. While extensively studied in songbirds, mammalian models for vocal learning are rare. Bats present a promising study system given their gregarious natures, small size, and the ability of some species to be maintained in captive colonies. We utilize the pale spear-nosed bat (Phyllostomus discolor) and report advances in establishing this species as a tractable model for understanding vocal learning. We have taken an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to provide an integrated understanding across genomics (Part I), neurobiology (Part II), and transgenics (Part III). In Part I, we generated new, high-quality genome annotations of coding genes and noncoding microRNAs to facilitate functional and evolutionary studies. In Part II, we traced connections between auditory-related brain regions and reported neuroimaging to explore the structure of the brain and gene expression patterns to highlight brain regions. In Part III, we created the first successful transgenic bats by manipulating the expression of FoxP2, a speech-related gene. These interdisciplinary approaches are facilitating a mechanistic and evolutionary understanding of mammalian vocal learning and can also contribute to other areas of investigation that utilize P. discolor or bats as study species.
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Geipel, I., Lattenkamp, E. Z., Dixon, M. M., Wiegrebe, L., & Page, R. A. (2021). Hearing sensitivity: An underlying mechanism for niche differentiation in gleaning bats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118: e2024943118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2024943118.
AbstractTropical ecosystems are known for high species diversity. Adaptations permitting niche differentiation enable species to coexist. Historically, research focused primarily on morphological and behavioral adaptations for foraging, roosting, and other basic ecological factors. Another important factor, however, is differences in sensory capabilities. So far, studies mainly have focused on the output of behavioral strategies of predators and their prey preference. Understanding the coexistence of different foraging strategies, however, requires understanding underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms. In this study, we investigate hearing in bats and how it shapes bat species coexistence. We present the hearing thresholds and echolocation calls of 12 different gleaning bats from the ecologically diverse Phyllostomid family. We measured their auditory brainstem responses to assess their hearing sensitivity. The audiograms of these species had similar overall shapes but differed substantially for frequencies below 9 kHz and in the frequency range of their echolocation calls. Our results suggest that differences among bats in hearing abilities contribute to the diversity in foraging strategies of gleaning bats. We argue that differences in auditory sensitivity could be important mechanisms shaping diversity in sensory niches and coexistence of species.
Hoeksema, N., Verga, L., Mengede, J., Van Roessel, C., Villanueva, S., Salazar-Casals, A., Rubio-Garcia, A., Curcic-Blake, B., Vernes, S. C., & Ravignani, A. (2021). Neuroanatomy of the grey seal brain: Bringing pinnipeds into the neurobiological study of vocal learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 376: 20200252. doi:10.1098/rstb.2020.0252.
AbstractComparative studies of vocal learning and vocal non-learning animals can increase our understanding of the neurobiology and evolution of vocal learning and human speech. Mammalian vocal learning is understudied: most research has either focused on vocal learning in songbirds or its absence in non-human primates. Here we focus on a highly promising model species for the neurobiology of vocal learning: grey seals. We provide a neuroanatomical atlas (based on dissected brain slices and magnetic resonance images), a labelled MRI template, a 3D model with volumetric measurements of brain regions, and histological cortical stainings. Four main features of the grey seal brain stand out. (1) It is relatively big and highly convoluted. (2) It hosts a relatively large temporal lobe and cerebellum, structures which could support developed timing abilities and acoustic processing. (3) The cortex is similar to humans in thickness and shows the expected six-layered mammalian structure. (4) Expression of FoxP2 - a gene involved in vocal learning and spoken language - is present in deeper layers of the cortex. Our results could facilitate future studies targeting the neural and genetic underpinnings of mammalian vocal learning, thus bridging the research gap from songbirds to humans and non-human primates.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.
Hörpel, S. G., Baier, L., Peremans, H., Reijniers, J., Wiegrebe, L., & Firzlaff, U. (2021). Communication breakdown: Limits of spectro-temporal resolution for the perception of bat communication calls. Scientific Reports, 11: 13708. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-92842-4.
AbstractDuring vocal communication, the spectro‑temporal structure of vocalizations conveys important
contextual information. Bats excel in the use of sounds for echolocation by meticulous encoding of
signals in the temporal domain. We therefore hypothesized that for social communication as well,
bats would excel at detecting minute distortions in the spectro‑temporal structure of calls. To test
this hypothesis, we systematically introduced spectro‑temporal distortion to communication calls of
Phyllostomus discolor bats. We broke down each call into windows of the same length and randomized
the phase spectrum inside each window. The overall degree of spectro‑temporal distortion in
communication calls increased with window length. Modelling the bat auditory periphery revealed
that cochlear mechanisms allow discrimination of fast spectro‑temporal envelopes. We evaluated
model predictions with experimental psychophysical and neurophysiological data. We first assessed
bats’ performance in discriminating original versions of calls from increasingly distorted versions of
the same calls. We further examined cortical responses to determine additional specializations for
call discrimination at the cortical level. Psychophysical and cortical responses concurred with model
predictions, revealing discrimination thresholds in the range of 8–15 ms randomization‑window
length. Our data suggest that specialized cortical areas are not necessary to impart psychophysical
resilience to temporal distortion in communication calls.
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Lattenkamp, E. Z., Hörpel, S. G., Mengede, J., & Firzlaff, U. (2021). A researcher’s guide to the comparison of vocal production learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 376: 20200237. doi:10.1098/rstb.2020.0237.
AbstractVocal production learning (VPL) is the capacity to learn to produce new vocalizations, which is a rare ability in the animal kingdom and thus far has only been identified in a handful of mammalian taxa and three groups of birds. Over the last few decades, approaches to the demonstration of VPL have varied among taxa, sound production systems and functions. These discrepancies strongly impede direct comparisons between studies. In the light of the growing number of experimental studies reporting VPL, the need for comparability is becoming more and more pressing. The comparative evaluation of VPL across studies would be facilitated by unified and generalized reporting standards, which would allow a better positioning of species on any proposed VPL continuum. In this paper, we specifically highlight five factors influencing the comparability of VPL assessments: (i) comparison to an acoustic baseline, (ii) comprehensive reporting of acoustic parameters, (iii) extended reporting of training conditions and durations, (iv) investigating VPL function via behavioural, perception-based experiments and (v) validation of findings on a neuronal level. These guidelines emphasize the importance of comparability between studies in order to unify the field of vocal learning.
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Linnenschmidt, M., Mardus, E., Vernes, S. C., Wiegrebe, L., & Schutte, M. (2021). The vocal development of the pale spear-nosed bat is dependent on auditory feedback. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 376: 20200253. doi:10.1098/rstb.2020.0253.
AbstractHuman vocal development and speech learning require acoustic feedback, and
humans who are born deaf do not acquire a normal adult speech capacity. Most
other mammals display a largely innate vocal repertoire. Like humans, bats are
thought to be one of the few taxa capable of vocal learning as they can acquire
new vocalizations by modifying vocalizations according to auditory experiences.
We investigated the effect of acoustic deafening on the vocal development of the
pale spear-nosed bat. Three juvenile pale spear-nosed bats were deafened, and
their vocal development was studied in comparison with an age-matched, hear-
ing control group. The results show that during development the deafened bats
increased their vocal activity, and their vocalizations were substantially altered,
being much shorter, higher in pitch, and more aperiodic than the vocalizations
of the control animals. The pale spear-nosed bat relies on auditory feedback
for vocal development and, in the absence of auditory input, species-atypical
vocalizations are acquired. This work serves as a basis for further research
using the pale spear-nosed bat as a mammalian model for vocal learning, and
contributes to comparative studies on hearing impairment across species.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Vocal learning in animals and
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Nagy, M., Drexl, M., Vernes, S. C., Wiegrebe, L., & Knörnschild, M. (2021). Hearing sensitivity and amplitude coding in bats are differentially shaped by echolocation calls and social calls. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288(1942): 20202600. doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.2600.
AbstractDifferences in auditory perception between species are influenced by phylogenetic origin and the perceptual challenges imposed by the natural environment, such as detecting prey- or predator-generated sounds and communication signals. Bats are well suited for comparative studies on auditory perception since they predominantly rely on echolocation to perceive the world, while their social calls and most environmental sounds have low frequencies. We tested if hearing sensitivity and stimulus level coding in bats differ between high and low-frequency ranges by measuring auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) of 86 bats belonging to 11 species. In most species, auditory sensitivity was equally good at both high- and low-frequency ranges, while amplitude was more finely coded for higher frequency ranges. Additionally, we conducted a phylogenetic comparative analysis by combining our ABR data with published data on 27 species. Species-specific peaks in hearing sensitivity correlated with peak frequencies of echolocation calls and pup isolation calls, suggesting that changes in hearing sensitivity evolved in response to frequency changes of echolocation and social calls. Overall, our study provides the most comprehensive comparative assessment of bat hearing capacities to date and highlights the evolutionary pressures acting on their sensory perception.
Moreno Santillán, D. D., Lama, T. M., Gutierrez Guerrero, Y. T., Brown, A. M., Donat, P., Zhao, H., Rossiter, S. J., Yohe, L. R., Potter, J. H., Teeling, E. C., Vernes, S. C., Davies, K. T. J., Myers, E., Hughes, G. M., Huang, Z., Hoffmann, F., Corthals, A. P., Ray, D. A., & Dávalos, L. M. (2021). Large‐scale genome sampling reveals unique immunity and metabolic adaptations in bats. Molecular Ecology, 30(23), 6449-6467. doi:10.1111/mec.16027.
AbstractComprising more than 1,400 species, bats possess adaptations unique among mammals including powered flight, unexpected longevity, and extraordinary immunity. Some of the molecular mechanisms underlying these unique adaptations includes DNA repair, metabolism and immunity. However, analyses have been limited to a few divergent lineages, reducing the scope of inferences on gene family evolution across the Order Chiroptera. We conducted an exhaustive comparative genomic study of 37 bat species, one generated in this study, encompassing a large number of lineages, with a particular emphasis on multi-gene family evolution across immune and metabolic genes. In agreement with previous analyses, we found lineage-specific expansions of the APOBEC3 and MHC-I gene families, and loss of the proinflammatory PYHIN gene family. We inferred more than 1,000 gene losses unique to bats, including genes involved in the regulation of inflammasome pathways such as epithelial defense receptors, the natural killer gene complex and the interferon-gamma induced pathway. Gene set enrichment analyses revealed genes lost in bats are involved in defense response against pathogen-associated molecular patterns and damage-associated molecular patterns. Gene family evolution and selection analyses indicate bats have evolved fundamental functional differences compared to other mammals in both innate and adaptive immune system, with the potential to enhance anti-viral immune response while dampening inflammatory signaling. In addition, metabolic genes have experienced repeated expansions related to convergent shifts to plant-based diets. Our analyses support the hypothesis that, in tandem with flight, ancestral bats had evolved a unique set of immune adaptations whose functional implications remain to be explored.
Rhie, A., McCarthy, S. A., Fedrigo, O., Damas, J., Formenti, G., Koren, S., Uliano-Silva, M., Chow, W., Fungtammasan, A., Kim, J., Lee, C., Ko, B. J., Chaisson, M., Gedman, G. L., Cantin, L. J., Thibaud-Nissen, F., Haggerty, L., Bista, I., Smith, M., Haase, B. and 107 moreRhie, A., McCarthy, S. A., Fedrigo, O., Damas, J., Formenti, G., Koren, S., Uliano-Silva, M., Chow, W., Fungtammasan, A., Kim, J., Lee, C., Ko, B. J., Chaisson, M., Gedman, G. L., Cantin, L. J., Thibaud-Nissen, F., Haggerty, L., Bista, I., Smith, M., Haase, B., Mountcastle, J., Winkler, S., Paez, S., Howard, J., Vernes, S. C., Lama, T. M., Grutzner, F., Warren, W. C., Balakrishnan, C. N., Burt, D., George, J. M., Biegler, M. T., Iorns, D., Digby, A., Eason, D., Robertson, B., Edwards, T., Wilkinson, M., Turner, G., Meyer, A., Kautt, A. F., Franchini, P., Detrich, H. W., Svardal, H., Wagner, M., Naylor, G. J. P., Pippel, M., Malinsky, M., Mooney, M., Simbirsky, M., Hannigan, B. T., Pesout, T., Houck, M., Misuraca, A., Kingan, S. B., Hall, R., Kronenberg, Z., Sović, I., Dunn, C., Ning, Z., Hastie, A., Lee, J., Selvaraj, S., Green, R. E., Putnam, N. H., Gut, I., Ghurye, J., Garrison, E., Sims, Y., Collins, J., Pelan, S., Torrance, J., Tracey, A., Wood, J., Dagnew, R. E., Guan, D., London, S. E., Clayton, D. F., Mello, C. V., Friedrich, S. R., Lovell, P. V., Osipova, E., Al-Ajli, F. O., Secomandi, S., Kim, H., Theofanopoulou, C., Hiller, M., Zhou, Y., Harris, R. S., Makova, K. D., Medvedev, P., Hoffman, J., Masterson, P., Clark, K., Martin, F., Howe, K., Flicek, P., Walenz, B. P., Kwak, W., Clawson, H., Diekhans, M., Nassar, L., Paten, B., Kraus, R. H. S., Crawford, A. J., Gilbert, M. T. P., Zhang, G., Venkatesh, B., Murphy, R. W., Koepfli, K.-P., Shapiro, B., Johnson, W. E., Di Palma, F., Marques-Bonet, T., Teeling, E. C., Warnow, T., Graves, J. M., Ryder, O. A., Haussler, D., O’Brien, S. J., Korlach, J., Lewin, H. A., Howe, K., Myers, E. W., Durbin, R., Phillippy, A. M., & Jarvis, E. D. (2021). Towards complete and error-free genome assemblies of all vertebrate species. Nature, 592, 737-746. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-03451-0.
AbstractHigh-quality and complete reference genome assemblies are fundamental for the application of genomics to biology, disease, and biodiversity conservation. However, such assemblies are available for only a few non-microbial species1,2,3,4. To address this issue, the international Genome 10K (G10K) consortium5,6 has worked over a five-year period to evaluate and develop cost-effective methods for assembling highly accurate and nearly complete reference genomes. Here we present lessons learned from generating assemblies for 16 species that represent six major vertebrate lineages. We confirm that long-read sequencing technologies are essential for maximizing genome quality, and that unresolved complex repeats and haplotype heterozygosity are major sources of assembly error when not handled correctly. Our assemblies correct substantial errors, add missing sequence in some of the best historical reference genomes, and reveal biological discoveries. These include the identification of many false gene duplications, increases in gene sizes, chromosome rearrangements that are specific to lineages, a repeated independent chromosome breakpoint in bat genomes, and a canonical GC-rich pattern in protein-coding genes and their regulatory regions. Adopting these lessons, we have embarked on the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), an international effort to generate high-quality, complete reference genomes for all of the roughly 70,000 extant vertebrate species and to help to enable a new era of discovery across the life sciences.
Scala, M., Anijs, M., Battini, R., Madia, F., Capra, V., Scudieri, P., Verrotti, A., Zara, F., Minetti, C., Vernes, S. C., & Striano, P. (2021). Hyperkinetic stereotyped movements in a boy with biallelic CNTNAP2 variants. Italian Journal of Pediatrics, 47: 208. doi:10.1186/s13052-021-01162-w.
Heterozygous variants in CNTNAP2 have been implicated in a wide range of neurological phenotypes, including intellectual disability (ID), epilepsy, autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), and impaired language. However, heterozygous variants can also be found in unaffected individuals. Biallelic CNTNAP2 variants are rarer and cause a well-defined genetic syndrome known as CASPR2 deficiency disorder, a condition characterised by ID, early-onset refractory epilepsy, language impairment, and autistic features.
A 7-year-old boy presented with hyperkinetic stereotyped movements that started during early infancy and persisted over childhood. Abnormal movements consisted of rhythmic and repetitive shaking of the four limbs, with evident stereotypic features. Additional clinical features included ID, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ASD, and speech impairment, consistent with CASPR2 deficiency disorder. Whole-genome array comparative genomic hybridization detected a maternally inherited 0.402 Mb duplication, which involved intron 1, exon 2, and intron 2 of CNTNAP2 (c.97 +?_209-?dup). The affected region in intron 1 contains a binding site for the transcription factor FOXP2, potentially leading to abnormal CNTNAP2 expression regulation. Sanger sequencing of the coding region of CNTNAP2 also identified a paternally-inherited missense variant c.2752C > T, p.(Leu918Phe).
This case expands the molecular and phenotypic spectrum of CASPR2 deficiency disorder, suggesting that Hyperkinetic stereotyped movements may be a rare, yet significant, clinical feature of this complex neurological disorder. Furthermore, the identification of an in-frame, largely non-coding duplication in CNTNAP2 points to a sophisticated underlying molecular mechanism, likely involving impaired FOXP2 binding.
Additional informationadditional files
Vernes, S. C., Kriengwatana, B. P., Beeck, V. C., Fischer, J., Tyack, P. L., Ten Cate, C., & Janik, V. M. (2021). The multi-dimensional nature of vocal learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 376: 20200236. doi:10.1098/rstb.2020.0236.
AbstractHow learning affects vocalizations is a key question in the study of animal
communication and human language. Parallel efforts in birds and humans
have taught us much about how vocal learning works on a behavioural
and neurobiological level. Subsequent efforts have revealed a variety of
cases among mammals in which experience also has a major influence on
vocal repertoires. Janik and Slater (Anim. Behav. 60, 1–11. (doi:10.1006/
anbe.2000.1410)) introduced the distinction between vocal usage and pro-
duction learning, providing a general framework to categorize how
different types of learning influence vocalizations. This idea was built on
by Petkov and Jarvis (Front. Evol. Neurosci. 4, 12. (doi:10.3389/fnevo.2012.
00012)) to emphasize a more continuous distribution between limited and
more complex vocal production learners. Yet, with more studies providing
empirical data, the limits of the initial frameworks become apparent.
We build on these frameworks to refine the categorization of vocal learning
in light of advances made since their publication and widespread agreement
that vocal learning is not a binary trait. We propose a novel classification
system, based on the definitions by Janik and Slater, that deconstructs
vocal learning into key dimensions to aid in understanding the mechanisms
involved in this complex behaviour. We consider how vocalizations can
change without learning, and a usage learning framework that considers
context specificity and timing. We identify dimensions of vocal production
learning, including the copying of auditory models (convergence/
divergence on model sounds, accuracy of copying), the degree of change
(type and breadth of learning) and timing (when learning takes place, the
length of time it takes and how long it is retained). We consider grey
areas of classification and current mechanistic understanding of these beha-
viours. Our framework identifies research needs and will help to inform
neurobiological and evolutionary studies endeavouring to uncover the
multi-dimensional nature of vocal learning.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Vocal learning in animals and
Vernes, S. C., Janik, V. M., Fitch, W. T., & Slater, P. J. B. (
Eds.). (2021). Vocal learning in animals and humans [Special Issue]. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 376.
Wilkinson, G. S., Adams, D. M., Haghani, A., Lu, A. T., Zoller, J., Breeze, C. E., Arnold, B. D., Ball, H. C., Carter, G. G., Cooper, L. N., Dechmann, D. K. N., Devanna, P., Fasel, N. J., Galazyuk, A. V., Günther, L., Hurme, E., Jones, G., Knörnschild, M., Lattenkamp, E. Z., Li, C. Z. and 17 moreWilkinson, G. S., Adams, D. M., Haghani, A., Lu, A. T., Zoller, J., Breeze, C. E., Arnold, B. D., Ball, H. C., Carter, G. G., Cooper, L. N., Dechmann, D. K. N., Devanna, P., Fasel, N. J., Galazyuk, A. V., Günther, L., Hurme, E., Jones, G., Knörnschild, M., Lattenkamp, E. Z., Li, C. Z., Mayer, F., Reinhardt, J. A., Medellin, R. A., Nagy, M., Pope, B., Power, M. L., Ransome, R. D., Teeling, E. C., Vernes, S. C., Zamora-Mejías, D., Zhang, J., Faure, P. A., Greville, L. J., Herrera M., L. G., Flores-Martínez, J. J., & Horvath, S. (2021). DNA methylation predicts age and provides insight into exceptional longevity of bats. Nature Communications, 12: 1615. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-21900-2.
AbstractExceptionally long-lived species, including many bats, rarely show overt signs of aging, making it difficult to determine why species differ in lifespan. Here, we use DNA methylation (DNAm) profiles from 712 known-age bats, representing 26 species, to identify epigenetic changes associated with age and longevity. We demonstrate that DNAm accurately predicts chronological age. Across species, longevity is negatively associated with the rate of DNAm change at age-associated sites. Furthermore, analysis of several bat genomes reveals that hypermethylated age- and longevity-associated sites are disproportionately located in promoter regions of key transcription factors (TF) and enriched for histone and chromatin features associated with transcriptional regulation. Predicted TF binding site motifs and enrichment analyses indicate that age-related methylation change is influenced by developmental processes, while longevity-related DNAm change is associated with innate immunity or tumorigenesis genes, suggesting that bat longevity results from augmented immune response and cancer suppression.
Additional informationsupplementary information
Hoeksema, N., Villanueva, S., Mengede, J., Salazar-Casals, A., Rubio-García, A., Curcic-Blake, B., Vernes, S. C., & Ravignani, A. (2020). Neuroanatomy of the grey seal brain: Bringing pinnipeds into the neurobiological study of vocal learning. In A. Ravignani, C. Barbieri, M. Flaherty, Y. Jadoul, E. Lattenkamp, H. Little, M. Martins, K. Mudd, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (Evolang13) (pp. 162-164). Nijmegen: The Evolution of Language Conferences.
Hoeksema, N., Wiesmann, M., Kiliaan, A., Hagoort, P., & Vernes, S. C. (2020). Bats and the comparative neurobiology of vocal learning. In A. Ravignani, C. Barbieri, M. Flaherty, Y. Jadoul, E. Lattenkamp, H. Little, M. Martins, K. Mudd, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (Evolang13) (pp. 165-167). Nijmegen: The Evolution of Language Conferences.
Jebb, D., Huang, Z., Pippel, M., Hughes, G. M., Lavrichenko, K., Devanna, P., Winkler, S., Jermiin, L. S., Skirmuntt, E. C., Katzourakis, A., Burkitt-Gray, L., Ray, D. A., Sullivan, K. A. M., Roscito, J. G., Kirilenko, B. M., Dávalos, L. M., Corthals, A. P., Power, M. L., Jones, G., Ransome, R. D. and 9 moreJebb, D., Huang, Z., Pippel, M., Hughes, G. M., Lavrichenko, K., Devanna, P., Winkler, S., Jermiin, L. S., Skirmuntt, E. C., Katzourakis, A., Burkitt-Gray, L., Ray, D. A., Sullivan, K. A. M., Roscito, J. G., Kirilenko, B. M., Dávalos, L. M., Corthals, A. P., Power, M. L., Jones, G., Ransome, R. D., Dechmann, D., Locatelli, A. G., Puechmaille, S. J., Fedrigo, O., Jarvis, E. D., Hiller, M., Vernes, S. C., Myers, E. W., & Teeling, E. C. (2020). Six reference-quality genomes reveal evolution of bat adaptations. Nature, 583, 578-584. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2486-3.
AbstractBats possess extraordinary adaptations, including flight, echolocation, extreme longevity and unique immunity. High-quality genomes are crucial for understanding the molecular basis and evolution of these traits. Here we incorporated long-read sequencing and state-of-the-art scaffolding protocols1 to generate, to our knowledge, the first reference-quality genomes of six bat species (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, Rousettus aegyptiacus, Phyllostomus discolor, Myotis myotis, Pipistrellus kuhlii and Molossus molossus). We integrated gene projections from our ‘Tool to infer Orthologs from Genome Alignments’ (TOGA) software with de novo and homology gene predictions as well as short- and long-read transcriptomics to generate highly complete gene annotations. To resolve the phylogenetic position of bats within Laurasiatheria, we applied several phylogenetic methods to comprehensive sets of orthologous protein-coding and noncoding regions of the genome, and identified a basal origin for bats within Scrotifera. Our genome-wide screens revealed positive selection on hearing-related genes in the ancestral branch of bats, which is indicative of laryngeal echolocation being an ancestral trait in this clade. We found selection and loss of immunity-related genes (including pro-inflammatory NF-κB regulators) and expansions of anti-viral APOBEC3 genes, which highlights molecular mechanisms that may contribute to the exceptional immunity of bats. Genomic integrations of diverse viruses provide a genomic record of historical tolerance to viral infection in bats. Finally, we found and experimentally validated bat-specific variation in microRNAs, which may regulate bat-specific gene-expression programs. Our reference-quality bat genomes provide the resources required to uncover and validate the genomic basis of adaptations of bats, and stimulate new avenues of research that are directly relevant to human health and disease
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Linnenschmidt, M., Mardus, E., Vernes, S. C., Wiegrebe, L., & Schutte, M. (2020). Impact of auditory feedback on bat vocal development. In A. Ravignani, C. Barbieri, M. Flaherty, Y. Jadoul, E. Lattenkamp, H. Little, M. Martins, K. Mudd, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (Evolang13) (pp. 249-251). Nijmegen: The Evolution of Language Conferences.
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Vernes, S. C., & Wiegrebe, L. (2020). Vocal production learning in the pale spear-nosed bat, Phyllostomus discolor. Biology Letters, 16: 20190928. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2019.0928.
AbstractVocal production learning (VPL), or the ability to modify vocalizations through the imitation of sounds, is a rare trait in the animal kingdom. While humans are exceptional vocal learners, few other mammalian species share this trait. Owing to their singular ecology and lifestyle, bats are highly specialized for the precise emission and reception of acoustic signals. This specialization makes them ideal candidates for the study of vocal learning, and several bat species have previously shown evidence supportive of vocal learning. Here we use a sophisticated automated set-up and a contingency training paradigm to explore the vocal learning capacity of pale spear-nosed bats. We show that these bats are capable of directional change of the fundamental frequency of their calls according to an auditory target. With this study, we further highlight the importance of bats for the study of vocal learning and provide evidence for the VPL capacity of the pale spear-nosed bat.
Mengede, J., Devanna, P., Hörpel, S. G., Firzla, U., & Vernes, S. C. (2020). Studying the genetic bases of vocal learning in bats. In A. Ravignani, C. Barbieri, M. Flaherty, Y. Jadoul, E. Lattenkamp, H. Little, M. Martins, K. Mudd, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (Evolang13) (pp. 280-282). Nijmegen: The Evolution of Language Conferences.
Ravignani, A., Barbieri, C., Flaherty, M., Jadoul, Y., Lattenkamp, E. Z., Little, H., Martins, M., Mudd, K., & Verhoef, T. (
Eds.). (2020). The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (Evolang13). Nijmegen: The Evolution of Language Conferences. doi:10.17617/2.3190925.
Additional informationLink to pdf on EvoLang Website
Vernes, S. C. (2020). Understanding bat vocal learning to gain insight into speech and language. In A. Ravignani, C. Barbieri, M. Flaherty, Y. Jadoul, E. Lattenkamp, H. Little, M. Martins, K. Mudd, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference (Evolang13) (pp. 6). Nijmegen: The Evolution of Language Conferences.
Vernes, S. C., & Wilkinson, G. S. (2020). Behaviour, biology, and evolution of vocal learning in bats. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 375(1789): 20190061. doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0061.
AbstractThe comparative approach can provide insight into the evolution of human speech, language and social communication by studying relevant traits in animal systems. Bats are emerging as a model system with great potential to shed light on these processes given their learned vocalizations, close social interactions, and mammalian brains and physiology. A recent framework outlined the multiple levels of investigation needed to understand vocal learning across a broad range of non-human species, including cetaceans, pinnipeds, elephants, birds and bats. Here, we apply this framework to the current state-of-the-art in bat research. This encompasses our understanding of the abilities bats have displayed for vocal learning, what is known about the timing and social structure needed for such learning, and current knowledge about the prevalence of the trait across the order. It also addresses the biology (vocal tract morphology, neurobiology and genetics) and evolution of this trait. We conclude by highlighting some key questions that should be answered to advance our understanding of the biological encoding and evolution of speech and spoken communication. This article is part of the theme issue 'What can animal communication teach us about human language?'
Additional informationearlier version of article on BioRxiv
Devanna, P., Dediu, D., & Vernes, S. C. (2019). The Genetics of Language: From complex genes to complex communication. In S.-A. Rueschemeyer, & M. G. Gaskell (
Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics (2nd ed., pp. 865-898). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
AbstractThis chapter discusses the genetic foundations of the human capacity for language. It reviews the molecular structure of the genome and the complex molecular mechanisms that allow genetic information to influence multiple levels of biology. It goes on to describe the active regulation of genes and their formation of complex genetic pathways that in turn control the cellular environment and function. At each of these levels, examples of genes and genetic variants that may influence the human capacity for language are given. Finally, it discusses the value of using animal models to understand the genetic underpinnings of speech and language. From this chapter will emerge the complexity of the genome in action and the multidisciplinary efforts that are currently made to bridge the gap between genetics and language.
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Shields, S. M., Schutte, M., Richter, J., Linnenschmidt, M., Vernes, S. C., & Wiegrebe, L. (2019). The vocal repertoire of pale spear-nosed bats in a social roosting context. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7: 116. doi:10.3389/fevo.2019.00116.
AbstractCommonly known for their ability to echolocate, bats also use a wide variety of social vocalizations to communicate with one another. However, the full vocal repertoires of relatively few bat species have been studied thus far. The present study examined the vocal repertoire of the pale spear-nosed bat, Phyllostomus discolor, in a social roosting context. Based on visual examination of spectrograms and subsequent quantitative analysis of syllables, eight distinct syllable classes were defined, and their prevalence in different behavioral contexts was examined. Four more syllable classes were observed in low numbers and are described here as well. These results show that P. discolor possesses a rich vocal repertoire, which includes vocalizations comparable to previously reported repertoires of other bat species as well as vocalizations previously undescribed. Our data provide detailed information about the temporal and spectral characteristics of syllables emitted by P. discolor, allowing for a better understanding of the communicative system and related behaviors of this species. Furthermore, this vocal repertoire will serve as a basis for future research using P. discolor as a model organism for vocal communication and vocal learning and it will allow for comparative studies between bat species.
Additional informationSupplementary material
Savoia, M., Cencioni, C., Mori, M., Atlante, S., Zaccagnini, G., Devanna, P., Di Marcotullio, L., Botta, B., Martelli, F., Zeiher, A. M., Pontecorvi, A., Farsetti, A., Spallotta, F., & Gaetano, C. (2019). P300/CBP-associated factor regulates transcription and function of isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 during muscle differentiation. The FASEB Journal, 33(3), 4107-4123. doi:10.1096/fj.201800788R.
AbstractThe epigenetic enzyme p300/CBP-associated factor (PCAF) belongs to the GCN5-related N-acetyltransferase (GNAT) family together with GCN5. Although its transcriptional and post-translational function is well characterized, little is known about its properties as regulator of cell metabolism. Here, we report the mitochondrial localization of PCAF conferred by an 85 aa mitochondrial targeting sequence (MTS) at the N-terminal region of the protein. In mitochondria, one of the PCAF targets is the isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 (IDH2) acetylated at lysine 180. This PCAF-regulated post-translational modification might reduce IDH2 affinity for isocitrate as a result of a conformational shift involving predictively the tyrosine at position 179. Site-directed mutagenesis and functional studies indicate that PCAF regulates IDH2, acting at dual level during myoblast differentiation: at a transcriptional level together with MyoD, and at a post-translational level by direct modification of lysine acetylation in mitochondria. The latter event determines a decrease in IDH2 function with negative consequences on muscle fiber formation in C2C12 cells. Indeed, a MTS-deprived PCAF does not localize into mitochondria, remains enriched into the nucleus, and contributes to a significant increase of muscle-specific gene expression enhancing muscle differentiation. The role of PCAF in mitochondria is a novel finding shedding light on metabolic processes relevant to early muscle precursor differentiation.—Savoia, M., Cencioni, C., Mori, M., Atlante, S., Zaccagnini, G., Devanna, P., Di Marcotullio, L., Botta, B., Martelli, F., Zeiher, A. M., Pontecorvi, A., Farsetti, A., Spallotta, F., Gaetano, C. P300/CBP-associated factor regulates transcription and function of isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 during muscle differentiation.
Vernes, S. C. (2019). Neuromolecular approaches to the study of language. In P. Hagoort (
Ed.), Human language: From genes and brain to behavior (pp. 577-593). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wirthlin, M., Chang, E. F., Knörnschild, M., Krubitzer, L. A., Mello, C. V., Miller, C. T., Pfenning, A. R., Vernes, S. C., Tchernichovski, O., & Yartsev, M. M. (2019). A modular approach to vocal learning: Disentangling the diversity of a complex behavioral trait. Neuron, 104(1), 87-99. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2019.09.036.
AbstractVocal learning is a behavioral trait in which the social and acoustic environment shapes the vocal repertoire of individuals. Over the past century, the study of vocal learning has progressed at the intersection of ecology, physiology, neuroscience, molecular biology, genomics, and evolution. Yet, despite the complexity of this trait, vocal learning is frequently described as a binary trait, with species being classified as either vocal learners or vocal non-learners. As a result, studies have largely focused on a handful of species for which strong evidence for vocal learning exists. Recent studies, however, suggest a continuum in vocal learning capacity across taxa. Here, we further suggest that vocal learning is a multi-component behavioral phenotype comprised of distinct yet interconnected modules. Discretizing the vocal learning phenotype into its constituent modules would facilitate integration of findings across a wider diversity of species, taking advantage of the ways in which each excels in a particular module, or in a specific combination of features. Such comparative studies can improve understanding of the mechanisms and evolutionary origins of vocal learning. We propose an initial set of vocal learning modules supported by behavioral and neurobiological data and highlight the need for diversifying the field in order to disentangle the complexity of the vocal learning phenotype.
Becker, M., Devanna, P., Fisher, S. E., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Mapping of Human FOXP2 Enhancers Reveals Complex Regulation. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, 11: 47. doi:10.3389/fnmol.2018.00047.
AbstractMutations of the FOXP2 gene cause a severe speech and language disorder, providing a molecular window into the neurobiology of language. Individuals with FOXP2 mutations have structural and functional alterations affecting brain circuits that overlap with sites of FOXP2 expression, including regions of the cortex, striatum, and cerebellum. FOXP2 displays complex patterns of expression in the brain, as well as in non-neuronal tissues, suggesting that sophisticated regulatory mechanisms control its spatio-temporal expression. However, to date, little is known about the regulation of FOXP2 or the genomic elements that control its expression. Using chromatin conformation capture (3C), we mapped the human FOXP2 locus to identify putative enhancer regions that engage in long-range interactions with the promoter of this gene. We demonstrate the ability of the identified enhancer regions to drive gene expression. We also show regulation of the FOXP2 promoter and enhancer regions by candidate regulators – FOXP family and TBR1 transcription factors. These data point to regulatory elements that may contribute to the temporal- or tissue-specific expression patterns of human FOXP2. Understanding the upstream regulatory pathways controlling FOXP2 expression will bring new insight into the molecular networks contributing to human language and related disorders.
Devanna, P., Van de Vorst, M., Pfundt, R., Gilissen, C., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Genome-wide investigation of an ID cohort reveals de novo 3′UTR variants affecting gene expression. Human Genetics, 137(9), 717-721. doi:10.1007/s00439-018-1925-9.
AbstractIntellectual disability (ID) is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder with genetically heterogeneous causes. Large-scale sequencing has led to the identification of many gene-disrupting mutations; however, a substantial proportion of cases lack a molecular diagnosis. As such, there remains much to uncover for a complete understanding of the genetic underpinnings of ID. Genetic variants present in non-coding regions of the genome have been highlighted as potential contributors to neurodevelopmental disorders given their role in regulating gene expression. Nevertheless the functional characterization of non-coding variants remains challenging. We describe the identification and characterization of de novo non-coding variation in 3′UTR regulatory regions within an ID cohort of 50 patients. This cohort was previously screened for structural and coding pathogenic variants via CNV, whole exome and whole genome analysis. We identified 44 high-confidence single nucleotide non-coding variants within the 3′UTR regions of these 50 genomes. Four of these variants were located within predicted miRNA binding sites and were thus hypothesised to have regulatory consequences. Functional testing showed that two of the variants interfered with miRNA-mediated regulation of their target genes, AMD1 and FAIM. Both these variants were found in the same individual and their functional consequences may point to a potential role for such variants in intellectual disability.
Devanna, P., Chen, X. S., Ho, J., Gajewski, D., Smith, S. D., Gialluisi, A., Francks, C., Fisher, S. E., Newbury, D. F., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Next-gen sequencing identifies non-coding variation disrupting miRNA binding sites in neurological disorders. Molecular Psychiatry, 23(5), 1375-1384. doi:10.1038/mp.2017.30.
AbstractUnderstanding the genetic factors underlying neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders is a major challenge given their prevalence and potential severity for quality of life. While large-scale genomic screens have made major advances in this area, for many disorders the genetic underpinnings are complex and poorly understood. To date the field has focused predominantly on protein coding variation, but given the importance of tightly controlled gene expression for normal brain development and disorder, variation that affects non-coding regulatory regions of the genome is likely to play an important role in these phenotypes. Herein we show the importance of 3 prime untranslated region (3'UTR) non-coding regulatory variants across neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. We devised a pipeline for identifying and functionally validating putatively pathogenic variants from next generation sequencing (NGS) data. We applied this pipeline to a cohort of children with severe specific language impairment (SLI) and identified a functional, SLI-associated variant affecting gene regulation in cells and post-mortem human brain. This variant and the affected gene (ARHGEF39) represent new putative risk factors for SLI. Furthermore, we identified 3′UTR regulatory variants across autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder NGS cohorts demonstrating their impact on neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. Our findings show the importance of investigating non-coding regulatory variants when determining risk factors contributing to neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. In the future, integration of such regulatory variation with protein coding changes will be essential for uncovering the genetic causes of complex neurological disorders and the fundamental mechanisms underlying health and disease
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Kaiser, S., Kaucic, R., Großmann, M., Koselj, K., & Goerlitz, H. R. (2018). Environmental acoustic cues guide the biosonar attention of a highly specialised echolocator. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221(8): jeb165696. doi:10.1242/jeb.165696.
AbstractSensory systems experience a trade-off between maximizing the
detail and amount of sampled information. Thistrade-off is particularly
pronounced in sensorysystemsthat are highlyspecialised fora single
task and thus experience limitations in other tasks. We hypothesised
that combining sensory input from multiple streams of information
may resolve this trade-off and improve detection and sensing
reliability. Specifically, we predicted that perceptive limitations
experienced by animals reliant on specialised active echolocation
can be compensated for by the phylogenetically older and less
specialised process of passive hearing. We tested this hypothesis in
greater horseshoe bats, which possess morphological and neural
specialisations allowing them to identify fluttering prey in dense
vegetation using echolocation only. At the same time, their
echolocation system is both spatially and temporally severely
limited. Here, we show that greater horseshoe bats employ passive
hearing to initially detect and localise prey-generated and other
environmental sounds, and then raise vocalisation level and
concentrate the scanning movements of their sonar beam on the
sound source for further investigation with echolocation. These
specialised echolocators thus supplement echo-acoustic information
with environmental acoustic cues, enlarging perceived space beyond
their biosonar range. Contrary to our predictions, we did not find
consistent preferences for prey-related acoustic stimuli, indicating the
use of passive acoustic cues also for detection of non-prey objects.
Our findings suggest that even specialised echolocators exploit a
wide range of environmental information, and that phylogenetically
older sensory systems can support the evolution of sensory
specialisations by compensating for their limitations.
Additional informationJEB165696supp.pdf Locator Data are archived in EDMOND. MATLAB and R code can be obtained on requ…
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Vernes, S. C., & Wiegrebe, L. (2018). Mammalian models for the study of vocal learning: A new paradigm in bats. In C. Cuskley, M. Flaherty, H. Little, L. McCrohon, A. Ravignani, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (EVOLANG XII) (pp. 235-237). Toruń, Poland: NCU Press. doi:10.12775/3991-1.056.
Lattenkamp, E. Z., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Vocal learning: A language-relevant trait in need of a broad cross-species approach. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 21, 209-215. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2018.04.007.
AbstractAlthough humans are unmatched in their capacity to produce
speech and learn language, comparative approaches in diverse
of language-relevant traits. In the study of vocal learning, a trait
crucial for spoken language, passerine birds have been the
dominant models, driving invaluable progress in understanding the
neurobiology and genetics of vocal learning despite being only
distantly related to humans. To date, there is sparse evidence that
our closest relatives, nonhuman primates have the capability to
learn new vocalisations. However, a number of other mammals
have shown the capacity for vocal learning, such as some
cetaceans, pinnipeds, elephants, and bats, and we anticipate that
with further study more species will gain membership to this
(currently) select club. A broad, cross-species comparison of vocal
learning, coupled with careful consideration of the components
underlying this trait, is crucial to determine how human speech and
spoken language is biologically encoded and how it evolved. We
emphasise the need to draw on the pool of promising species that
call for fewer studies in songbirds, or an unfocused treasure-hunt,
but rather an appeal for structured comparisons across a range of
species, considering phylogenetic relationships, ecological and
morphological constrains, developmental and social factors, and
neurogenetic underpinnings. Herein, we promote a comparative
broad range of model species, and describe a common framework
for targeted cross-taxon studies to shed light on the biology and
evolution of vocal learning.
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Vernes, S. C., & Wiegrebe, L. (2018). Volitional control of social vocalisations and vocal usage learning in bats. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221(14): jeb.180729. doi:10.1242/jeb.180729.
AbstractBats are gregarious, highly vocal animals that possess a broad repertoire of social vocalisations. For in-depth studies of their vocal behaviours, including vocal flexibility and vocal learning, it is necessary to gather repeatable evidence from controlled laboratory experiments on isolated individuals. However, such studies are rare for one simple reason: eliciting social calls in isolation and under operant control is challenging and has rarely been achieved. To overcome this limitation, we designed an automated setup that allows conditioning of social vocalisations in a new context, and tracks spectro-temporal changes in the recorded calls over time. Using this setup, we were able to reliably evoke social calls from temporarily isolated lesser spear-nosed bats (Phyllostomus discolor). When we adjusted the call criteria that could result in food reward, bats responded by adjusting temporal and spectral call parameters. This was achieved without the help of an auditory template or social context to direct the bats. Our results demonstrate vocal flexibility and vocal usage learning in bats. Our setup provides a new paradigm that allows the controlled study of the production and learning of social vocalisations in isolated bats, overcoming limitations that have, until now, prevented in-depth studies of these behaviours.
Pika, S., Wilkinson, R., Kendrick, K. H., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Taking turns: Bridging the gap between human and animal communication. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285(1880): 20180598. doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.0598.
AbstractLanguage, humans’ most distinctive trait, still remains a ‘mystery’ for evolutionary theory. It is underpinned by a universal infrastructure—cooperative turn-taking—which has been suggested as an ancient mechanism bridging the existing gap between the articulate human species and their inarticulate primate cousins. However, we know remarkably little about turn-taking systems of non-human animals, and methodological confounds have often prevented meaningful cross-species comparisons. Thus, the extent to which cooperative turn-taking is uniquely human or represents a homologous and/or analogous trait is currently unknown. The present paper draws attention to this promising research avenue by providing an overview of the state of the art of turn-taking in four animal taxa—birds, mammals, insects and anurans. It concludes with a new comparative framework to spur more research into this research domain and to test which elements of the human turn-taking system are shared across species and taxa.
Rodenas-Cuadrado, P., Mengede, J., Baas, L., Devanna, P., Schmid, T. A., Yartsev, M., Firzlaff, U., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Mapping the distribution of language related genes FoxP1, FoxP2 and CntnaP2 in the brains of vocal learning bat species. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 526(8), 1235-1266. doi:10.1002/cne.24385.
AbstractGenes including FOXP2, FOXP1 and CNTNAP2, have been implicated in human speech and language phenotypes, pointing to a role in the development of normal language-related circuitry in the brain. Although speech and language are unique human phenotypes, a comparative approach is possible by addressing language-relevant traits in animal model systems. One such trait, vocal learning, represents an essential component of human spoken language, and is shared by cetaceans, pinnipeds, elephants, some birds and bats. Given their vocal learning abilities, gregarious nature, and reliance on vocalisations for social communication and navigation, bats represent an intriguing mammalian system in which to explore language-relevant genes. We used immunohistochemistry to detail the distribution of FoxP2, FoxP1 and Cntnap2 proteins, accompanied by detailed cytoarchitectural histology in the brains of two vocal learning bat species; Phyllostomus discolor and Rousettus aegyptiacus. We show widespread expression of these genes, similar to what has been previously observed in other species, including humans. A striking difference was observed in the adult Phyllostomus discolor bat, which showed low levels of FoxP2 expression in the cortex, contrasting with patterns found in rodents and non-human primates. We created an online, open-access database within which all data can be browsed, searched, and high resolution images viewed to single cell resolution. The data presented herein reveal regions of interest in the bat brain and provide new opportunities to address the role of these language-related genes in complex vocal-motor and vocal learning behaviours in a mammalian model system.
Teeling, E., Vernes, S. C., Davalos, L. M., Ray, D. A., Gilbert, M. T. P., Myers, E., & Bat1K Consortium (2018). Bat biology, genomes, and the Bat1K project: To generate chromosome-level genomes for all living bat species. Annual Review of Animal Biosciences, 6, 23-46. doi:10.1146/annurev-animal-022516-022811.
AbstractBats are unique among mammals, possessing some of the rarest mammalian adaptations, including true self-powered flight, laryngeal echolocation, exceptional longevity, unique immunity, contracted genomes, and vocal learning. They provide key ecosystem services, pollinating tropical plants, dispersing seeds, and controlling insect pest populations, thus driving healthy ecosystems. They account for more than 20% of all living mammalian diversity, and their crown-group evolutionary history dates back to the Eocene. Despite their great numbers and diversity, many species are threatened and endangered. Here we announce Bat1K, an initiative to sequence the genomes of all living bat species (n∼1,300) to chromosome-level assembly. The Bat1K genome consortium unites bat biologists (>132 members as of writing), computational scientists, conservation organizations, genome technologists, and any interested individuals committed to a better understanding of the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms that underlie the unique adaptations of bats. Our aim is to catalog the unique genetic diversity present in all living bats to better understand the molecular basis of their unique adaptations; uncover their evolutionary history; link genotype with phenotype; and ultimately better understand, promote, and conserve bats. Here we review the unique adaptations of bats and highlight how chromosome-level genome assemblies can uncover the molecular basis of these traits. We present a novel sequencing and assembly strategy and review the striking societal and scientific benefits that will result from the Bat1K initiative.
Additional informationA full list of Bat1K consortium members is presented in this Supplemental Appen…
Van Rhijn, J. R., Fisher, S. E., Vernes, S. C., & Nadif Kasri, N. (2018). Foxp2 loss of function increases striatal direct pathway inhibition via increased GABA release. Brain Structure and Function, 223(9), 4211-4226. doi:10.1007/s00429-018-1746-6.
AbstractHeterozygous mutations of the Forkhead-box protein 2 (FOXP2) gene in humans cause childhood apraxia of speech. Loss of Foxp2 in mice is known to affect striatal development and impair motor skills. However, it is unknown if striatal excitatory/inhibitory balance is affected during development and if the imbalance persists into adulthood. We investigated the effect of reduced Foxp2 expression, via a loss-of-function mutation, on striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs). Our data show that heterozygous loss of Foxp2 decreases excitatory (AMPA receptor-mediated) and increases inhibitory (GABA receptor-mediated) currents in D1 dopamine receptor positive MSNs of juvenile and adult mice. Furthermore, reduced Foxp2 expression increases GAD67 expression, leading to both increased presynaptic content and release of GABA. Finally, pharmacological blockade of inhibitory activity in vivo partially rescues motor skill learning deficits in heterozygous Foxp2 mice. Our results suggest a novel role for Foxp2 in the regulation of striatal direct pathway activity through managing inhibitory drive.
Vernes, S. C. (2018). Vocal learning in bats: From genes to behaviour. In C. Cuskley, M. Flaherty, H. Little, L. McCrohon, A. Ravignani, & T. Verhoef (
Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (EVOLANG XII) (pp. 516-518). Toruń, Poland: NCU Press. doi:10.12775/3991-1.128.
Wanke, K., Devanna, P., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Understanding neurodevelopmental disorders: The promise of regulatory variation in the 3’UTRome. Biological Psychiatry, 83(7), 548-557. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.11.006.
AbstractNeurodevelopmental disorders have a strong genetic component, but despite widespread efforts, the specific genetic factors underlying these disorders remain undefined for a large proportion of affected individuals. Given the accessibility of exome-sequencing, this problem has thus far been addressed from a protein-centric standpoint; however, protein-coding regions only make up ∼1-2% of the human genome. With the advent of whole-genome sequencing we are in the midst of a paradigm shift as it is now possible to interrogate the entire sequence of the human genome (coding and non-coding) to fill in the missing heritability of complex disorders. These new technologies bring new challenges, as the number of non-coding variants identified per individual can be overwhelming, making it prudent to focus on non-coding regions of known function, for which the effects of variation can be predicted and directly tested to assess pathogenicity. The 3’UTRome is a region of the non-coding genome that perfectly fulfils these criteria and is of high interest when searching for pathogenic variation related to complex neurodevelopmental disorders. Herein, we review the regulatory roles of the 3’UTRome as binding sites for microRNAs, RNA binding proteins or during alternative polyadenylation. We detail existing evidence that these regions contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders and outline strategies for identification and validation of novel putatively pathogenic variation in these regions. This evidence suggests that studying the 3’UTRome will lead to the identification of new risk factors, new candidate disease genes and a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms contributing to NDDs.
Cortázar-Chinarro, M., Lattenkamp, E. Z., Meyer-Lucht, Y., Luquet, E., Laurila, A., & Höglund, J. (2017). Drift, selection, or migration? Processes affecting genetic differentiation and variation along a latitudinal gradient in an amphibian. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 17: 189. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-1022-z.
AbstractPast events like fluctuations in population size and post-glacial colonization processes may influence the relative importance of genetic drift, migration and selection when determining the present day patterns of genetic variation. We disentangle how drift, selection and migration shape neutral and adaptive genetic variation in 12 moor frog populations along a 1700 km latitudinal gradient. We studied genetic differentiation and variation at a MHC exon II locus and a set of 18 microsatellites.
Using outlier analyses, we identified the MHC II exon 2 (corresponding to the β-2 domain) locus and one microsatellite locus (RCO8640) to be subject to diversifying selection, while five microsatellite loci showed signals of stabilizing selection among populations. STRUCTURE and DAPC analyses on the neutral microsatellites assigned populations to a northern and a southern cluster, reflecting two different post-glacial colonization routes found in previous studies. Genetic variation overall was lower in the northern cluster. The signature of selection on MHC exon II was weaker in the northern cluster, possibly as a consequence of smaller and more fragmented populations.
Our results show that historical demographic processes combined with selection and drift have led to a complex pattern of differentiation along the gradient where some loci are more divergent among populations than predicted from drift expectations due to diversifying selection, while other loci are more uniform among populations due to stabilizing selection. Importantly, both overall and MHC genetic variation are lower at northern latitudes. Due to lower evolutionary potential, the low genetic variation in northern populations may increase the risk of extinction when confronted with emerging pathogens and climate change.
Negwer, M., & Schubert, D. (2017). Talking convergence: Growing evidence links FOXP2 and retinoic acidin shaping speech-related motor circuitry. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 11: 19. doi:10.3389/fnins.2017.00019.
AbstractA commentary on
FOXP2 drives neuronal differentiation by interacting with retinoic acid signaling pathways
by Devanna, P., Middelbeek, J., and Vernes, S. C. (2014). Front. Cell. Neurosci. 8:305. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2014.00305
Vernes, S. C. (2017). What bats have to say about speech and language. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 24(1), 111-117. doi:10.3758/s13423-016-1060-3.
AbstractUnderstanding the biological foundations of language is vital to gaining insight into how the capacity for language may have evolved in humans. Animal models can be exploited to learn about the biological underpinnings of shared human traits, and although no other animals display speech or language, a range of behaviors found throughout the animal kingdom are relevant to speech and spoken language. To date, such investigations have been dominated by studies of our closest primate relatives searching for shared traits, or more distantly related species that are sophisticated vocal communicators, like songbirds. Herein I make the case for turning our attention to the Chiropterans, to shed new light on the biological encoding and evolution of human language-relevant traits. Bats employ complex vocalizations to facilitate navigation as well as social interactions, and are exquisitely tuned to acoustic information. Furthermore, bats display behaviors such as vocal learning and vocal turn-taking that are directly pertinent for human spoken language. Emerging technologies are now allowing the study of bat vocal communication, from the behavioral to the neurobiological and molecular level. Although it is clear that no single animal model can reflect the complexity of human language, by comparing such findings across diverse species we can identify the shared biological mechanisms likely to have influenced the evolution of human language. Keywords
Becker, M., Guadalupe, T., Franke, B., Hibar, D. P., Renteria, M. E., Stein, J. L., Thompson, P. M., Francks, C., Vernes, S. C., & Fisher, S. E. (2016). Early developmental gene enhancers affect subcortical volumes in the adult human brain. Human Brain Mapping, 37(5), 1788-1800. doi:10.1002/hbm.23136.
AbstractGenome-wide association screens aim to identify common genetic variants contributing to the phenotypic variability of complex traits, such as human height or brain morphology. The identified genetic variants are mostly within noncoding genomic regions and the biology of the genotype–phenotype association typically remains unclear. In this article, we propose a complementary targeted strategy to reveal the genetic underpinnings of variability in subcortical brain volumes, by specifically selecting genomic loci that are experimentally validated forebrain enhancers, active in early embryonic development. We hypothesized that genetic variation within these enhancers may affect the development and ultimately the structure of subcortical brain regions in adults. We tested whether variants in forebrain enhancer regions showed an overall enrichment of association with volumetric variation in subcortical structures of >13,000 healthy adults. We observed significant enrichment of genomic loci that affect the volume of the hippocampus within forebrain enhancers (empirical P = 0.0015), a finding which robustly passed the adjusted threshold for testing of multiple brain phenotypes (cutoff of P < 0.0083 at an alpha of 0.05). In analyses of individual single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), we identified an association upstream of the ID2 gene with rs7588305 and variation in hippocampal volume. This SNP-based association survived multiple-testing correction for the number of SNPs analyzed but not for the number of subcortical structures. Targeting known regulatory regions offers a way to understand the underlying biology that connects genotypes to phenotypes, particularly in the context of neuroimaging genetics. This biology-driven approach generates testable hypotheses regarding the functional biology of identified associations.
Kos, A., Wanke, K., Gioio, A., Martens, G. J., Kaplan, B. B., & Aschrafi, A. (2016). Monitoring mRNA Translation in Neuronal Processes Using Fluorescent Non-Canonical Amino Acid Tagging. Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry, 64(5), 323-333. doi:10.1369/0022155416641604.
AbstractA steady accumulation of experimental data argues that protein synthesis in neurons is not merely restricted to the somatic compartment, but also occurs in several discrete cellular micro-domains. Local protein synthesis is critical for the establishment of synaptic plasticity in mature dendrites and in directing the growth cones of immature axons, and has been associated with cognitive impairment in mice and humans. Although in recent years a number of important mechanisms governing this process have been described, it remains technically challenging to precisely monitor local protein synthesis in individual neuronal cell parts independent from the soma. This report presents the utility of employing microfluidic chambers for the isolation and treatment of single neuronal cellular compartments. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that a protein synthesis assay, based on fluorescent non-canonical amino acid tagging (FUNCAT), can be combined with this cell culture system to label nascent proteins within a discrete structural and functional domain of the neuron. Together, these techniques could be employed for the detection of protein synthesis within developing and mature neurites, offering an effective approach to elucidate novel mechanisms controlling synaptic maintenance and plasticity.
Lattenkamp, E. Z., Mandák, M., & Scherz, M. D. (2016). The advertisement call of Stumpffia be Köhler, Vences, D'Cruze & Glaw, 2010 (Anura: Microhylidae: Cophylinae). Zootaxa, 4205(5), 483-485. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4205.5.7.
AbstractWe describe the calls of Stumpffia be Köhler, Vences, D’Cruze & Glaw, 2010. This is the first call description made for a species belonging to the large-bodied northern Madagascan radiation of Stumpffia Boettger, 1881. Stumpffia is a genus of small (~9–28 mm) microhylid frogs in the Madagascar-endemic subfamily Cophylinae Cope. Little is known about their reproductive strategies. Most species are assumed to lay their eggs in foam nests in the leaf litter of Madagascar’s humid and semi-humid forests (Glaw & Vences 1994; Klages et al. 2013). They exhibit some degree of parental care, with the males guarding the nest after eggs are laid (Klages et al. 2013). The bioacoustic repertoire of these frogs is thought to be limited, and there are two distinct call structures known for the genus: the advertisement call of the type species, S. psologlossa Boettger, 1881, is apparently unique in being a trill of notes repeated in short succession. All other species from which calls are known emit single, whistling or chirping notes (Vences & Glaw 1991; Vences et al. 2006).
Rodenas-Cuadrado, P., Pietrafusa, N., Francavilla, T., La Neve, A., Striano, P., & Vernes, S. C. (2016). Characterisation of CASPR2 deficiency disorder - a syndrome involving autism, epilepsy and language impairment. BMC Medical Genetics, 17: 8. doi:10.1186/s12881-016-0272-8.
AbstractBackground Heterozygous mutations in CNTNAP2 have been identified in patients with a range of complex phenotypes including intellectual disability, autism and schizophrenia. However heterozygous CNTNAP2 mutations are also found in the normal population. Conversely, homozygous mutations are rare in patient populations and have not been found in any unaffected individuals. Case presentation We describe a consanguineous family carrying a deletion in CNTNAP2 predicted to abolish function of its protein product, CASPR2. Homozygous family members display epilepsy, facial dysmorphisms, severe intellectual disability and impaired language. We compared these patients with previously reported individuals carrying homozygous mutations in CNTNAP2 and identified a highly recognisable phenotype. Conclusions We propose that CASPR2 loss produces a syndrome involving early-onset refractory epilepsy, intellectual disability, language impairment and autistic features that can be recognized as CASPR2 deficiency disorder. Further screening for homozygous patients meeting these criteria, together with detailed phenotypic and molecular investigations will be crucial for understanding the contribution of CNTNAP2 to normal and disrupted development.
Selten, M., Meyer, F., Ba, W., Valles, A., Maas, D., Negwer, M., Eijsink, V. D., van Vugt, R. W. M., van Hulten, J. A., van Bakel, N. H. M., Roosen, J., van der Linden, R., Schubert, D., Verheij, M. M. M., Kasri, N. N., & Martens, G. J. M. (2016). Increased GABAB receptor signaling in a rat model for schizophrenia. Scientific Reports, 6: 34240. doi:10.1038/srep34240.
AbstractSchizophrenia is a complex disorder that affects cognitive function and has been linked, both in patients and animal models, to dysfunction of the GABAergic system. However, the pathophysiological consequences of this dysfunction are not well understood. Here, we examined the GABAergic system in an animal model displaying schizophrenia-relevant features, the apomorphine-susceptible (APO-SUS) rat and its phenotypic counterpart, the apomorphine-unsusceptible (APO-UNSUS) rat at postnatal day 20-22. We found changes in the expression of the GABA-synthesizing enzyme GAD67 specifically in the prelimbic-but not the infralimbic region of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), indicative of reduced inhibitory function in this region in APO-SUS rats. While we did not observe changes in basal synaptic transmission onto LII/III pyramidal cells in the mPFC of APO-SUS compared to APO-UNSUS rats, we report reduced paired-pulse ratios at longer inter-stimulus intervals. The GABA(B) receptor antagonist CGP 55845 abolished this reduction, indicating that the decreased paired-pulse ratio was caused by increased GABA(B) signaling. Consistently, we find an increased expression of the GABA(B1) receptor subunit in APO-SUS rats. Our data provide physiological evidence for increased presynaptic GABAB signaling in the mPFC of APO-SUS rats, further supporting an important role for the GABAergic system in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.
Fisher, S. E., & Vernes, S. C. (2015). Genetics and the Language Sciences. Annual Review of Linguistics, 1, 289-310. doi:10.1146/annurev-linguist-030514-125024.
AbstractTheories addressing the biological basis of language must be built on
an appreciation of the ways that molecular and neurobiological substrates
can contribute to aspects of human cognition. Here, we lay out
the principles by which a genome could potentially encode the necessary
information to produce a language-ready brain. We describe
what genes are; how they are regulated; and how they affect the formation,
function, and plasticity of neuronal circuits. At each step,
we give examples of molecules implicated in pathways that are important
for speech and language. Finally, we discuss technological advances
in genomics that are revealing considerable genotypic variation in
the human population, from rare mutations to common polymorphisms,
with the potential to relate this variation to natural variability
in speech and language skills. Moving forward, an interdisciplinary
approach to the language sciences, integrating genetics, neurobiology,
psychology, and linguistics, will be essential for a complete understanding
of our unique human capacities.
Rodenas-Cuadrado, P., Chen, X. S., Wiegrebe, L., Firzlaff, U., & Vernes, S. C. (2015). A novel approach identifies the first transcriptome networks in bats: A new genetic model for vocal communication. BMC Genomics, 16: 836. doi:10.1186/s12864-015-2068-1.
AbstractBackground Bats are able to employ an astonishingly complex vocal repertoire for navigating their environment and conveying social information. A handful of species also show evidence for vocal learning, an extremely rare ability shared only with humans and few other animals. However, despite their potential for the study of vocal communication, bats remain severely understudied at a molecular level. To address this fundamental gap we performed the first transcriptome profiling and genetic interrogation of molecular networks in the brain of a highly vocal bat species, Phyllostomus discolor. Results Gene network analysis typically needs large sample sizes for correct clustering, this can be prohibitive where samples are limited, such as in this study. To overcome this, we developed a novel bioinformatics methodology for identifying robust co-expression gene networks using few samples (N=6). Using this approach, we identified tissue-specific functional gene networks from the bat PAG, a brain region fundamental for mammalian vocalisation. The most highly connected network identified represented a cluster of genes involved in glutamatergic synaptic transmission. Glutamatergic receptors play a significant role in vocalisation from the PAG, suggesting that this gene network may be mechanistically important for vocal-motor control in mammals. Conclusion We have developed an innovative approach to cluster co-expressing gene networks and show that it is highly effective in detecting robust functional gene networks with limited sample sizes. Moreover, this work represents the first gene network analysis performed in a bat brain and establishes bats as a novel, tractable model system for understanding the genetics of vocal mammalian communication.
Additional informationRaw reads from the RNA sequencing in NCBI bioproject repository
Rodenas-Cuadrado, P., Ho, J., & Vernes, S. C. (2014). Shining a light on CNTNAP2: Complex functions to complex disorders. European Journal of Human Genetics, 22(2), 171-178. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2013.100.
AbstractThe genetic basis of complex neurological disorders involving language are poorly understood, partly due to the multiple additive genetic risk factors that are thought to be responsible. Furthermore, these conditions are often syndromic in that they have a range of endophenotypes that may be associated with the disorder and that may be present in different combinations in patients. However, the emergence of individual genes implicated across multiple disorders has suggested that they might share similar underlying genetic mechanisms. The CNTNAP2 gene is an excellent example of this, as it has recently been implicated in a broad range of phenotypes including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, intellectual disability, dyslexia and language impairment. This review considers the evidence implicating CNTNAP2 in these conditions, the genetic risk factors and mutations that have been identified in patient and population studies and how these relate to patient phenotypes. The role of CNTNAP2 is examined in the context of larger neurogenetic networks during development and disorder, given what is known regarding the regulation and function of this gene. Understanding the role of CNTNAP2 in diverse neurological disorders will further our understanding of how combinations of individual genetic risk factors can contribute to complex conditions
Ayub, Q., Yngvadottir, B., Chen, Y., Xue, Y., Hu, M., Vernes, S. C., Fisher, S. E., & Tyler-Smith, C. (2013). FOXP2 targets show evidence of positive selection in European populations. American Journal of Human Genetics, 92, 696-706. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2013.03.019.
AbstractForkhead box P2 (FOXP2) is a highly conserved transcription factor that has been implicated in human speech and language disorders and plays important roles in the plasticity of the developing brain. The pattern of nucleotide polymorphisms in FOXP2 in modern populations suggests that it has been the target of positive (Darwinian) selection during recent human evolution. In our study, we searched for evidence of selection that might have followed FOXP2 adaptations in modern humans. We examined whether or not putative FOXP2 targets identified by chromatin-immunoprecipitation genomic screening show evidence of positive selection. We developed an algorithm that, for any given gene list, systematically generates matched lists of control genes from the Ensembl database, collates summary statistics for three frequency-spectrum-based neutrality tests from the low-coverage resequencing data of the 1000 Genomes Project, and determines whether these statistics are significantly different between the given gene targets and the set of controls. Overall, there was strong evidence of selection of FOXP2 targets in Europeans, but not in the Han Chinese, Japanese, or Yoruba populations. Significant outliers included several genes linked to cellular movement, reproduction, development, and immune cell trafficking, and 13 of these constituted a significant network associated with cardiac arteriopathy. Strong signals of selection were observed for CNTNAP2 and RBFOX1, key neurally expressed genes that have been consistently identified as direct FOXP2 targets in multiple studies and that have themselves been associated with neurodevelopmental disorders involving language dysfunction.
Additional informationSupplemental data for Ayub et al. 2013.pdf
Vernes, S. C., & Fisher, S. E. (2013). Genetic pathways implicated in speech and language. In S. Helekar (
Ed.), Animal models of speech and language disorders (pp. 13-40). New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-8400-4_2.
AbstractDisorders of speech and language are highly heritable, providing strong
support for a genetic basis. However, the underlying genetic architecture is complex,
involving multiple risk factors. This chapter begins by discussing genetic loci associated
with common multifactorial language-related impairments and goes on to
detail the only gene (known as FOXP2) to be directly implicated in a rare monogenic
speech and language disorder. Although FOXP2 was initially uncovered in
humans, model systems have been invaluable in progressing our understanding of
the function of this gene and its associated pathways in language-related areas of the
brain. Research in species from mouse to songbird has revealed effects of this gene
on relevant behaviours including acquisition of motor skills and learned vocalisations
and demonstrated a role for Foxp2 in neuronal connectivity and signalling,
particularly in the striatum. Animal models have also facilitated the identification of
wider neurogenetic networks thought to be involved in language development and
disorder and allowed the investigation of new candidate genes for disorders involving
language, such as CNTNAP2 and FOXP1. Ongoing work in animal models promises
to yield new insights into the genetic and neural mechanisms underlying human
speech and language
Walker, R. M., Hill, A. E., Newman, A. C., Hamilton, G., Torrance, H. S., Anderson, S. M., Ogawa, F., Derizioti, P., Nicod, J., Vernes, S. C., Fisher, S. E., Thomson, P. A., Porteous, D. J., & Evans, K. L. (2012). The DISC1 promoter: Characterization and regulation by FOXP2. Human Molecular Genetics, 21, 2862-2872. doi:10.1093/hmg/dds111.
AbstractDisrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) is a leading candidate susceptibility gene for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and recurrent major depression, which has been implicated in other psychiatric illnesses of neurodevelopmental origin, including autism. DISC1 was initially identified at the breakpoint of a balanced chromosomal translocation, t(1;11) (q42.1;14.3), in a family with a high incidence of psychiatric illness. Carriers of the translocation show a 50% reduction in DISC1 protein levels, suggesting altered DISC1 expression as a pathogenic mechanism in psychiatric illness. Altered DISC1 expression in the post-mortem brains of individuals with psychiatric illness and the frequent implication of non-coding regions of the gene by association analysis further support this assertion. Here, we provide the first characterisation of the DISC1 promoter region. Using dual luciferase assays, we demonstrate that a region -300bp to -177bp relative to the transcription start site (TSS) contributes positively to DISC1 promoter activity, whilst a region -982bp to -301bp relative to the TSS confers a repressive effect. We further demonstrate inhibition of DISC1 promoter activity and protein expression by FOXP2, a transcription factor implicated in speech and language function. This inhibition is diminished by two distinct FOXP2 point mutations, R553H and R328X, which were previously found in families affected by developmental verbal dyspraxia (DVD). Our work identifies an intriguing mechanistic link between neurodevelopmental disorders that have traditionally been viewed as diagnostically distinct but which do share varying degrees of phenotypic overlap.