A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language

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