Differential effects of Foxp2 disruption in distinct motor circuits

French, C. A., Vinueza Veloz, M. F., Zhou, K., Peter, S., Fisher, S. E., Costa, R. M., & De Zeeuw, C. I. (2019). Differential effects of Foxp2 disruption in distinct motor circuits. Molecular Psychiatry, 24, 447-462. doi:10.1038/s41380-018-0199-x.
Disruptions of the FOXP2 gene cause a speech and language disorder involving difficulties in sequencing orofacial movements. FOXP2 is expressed in cortico-striatal and cortico-cerebellar circuits important for fine motor skills, and affected individuals show abnormalities in these brain regions. We selectively disrupted Foxp2 in the cerebellar Purkinje cells, striatum or cortex of mice and assessed the effects on skilled motor behaviour using an operant lever-pressing task. Foxp2 loss in each region impacted behaviour differently, with striatal and Purkinje cell disruptions affecting the variability and the speed of lever-press sequences, respectively. Mice lacking Foxp2 in Purkinje cells showed a prominent phenotype involving slowed lever pressing as well as deficits in skilled locomotion. In vivo recordings from Purkinje cells uncovered an increased simple spike firing rate and decreased modulation of firing during limb movements. This was caused by increased intrinsic excitability rather than changes in excitatory or inhibitory inputs. Our findings show that Foxp2 can modulate different aspects of motor behaviour in distinct brain regions, and uncover an unknown role for Foxp2 in the modulation of Purkinje cell activity that severely impacts skilled movements.
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