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A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language

  • Simon E. Fisher (MPI for Psycholinguistics & Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Nijmegen)
Thursday 16 February 2017
LUCL Colloquium
Van Wijkplaats
Van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden

Come and interact with one of the people who discovered FOXP2 mutated gene in speech and language impairment! Drinks afterwards in the LUCL Common Room.


The rise of molecular technologies has yielded exciting new routes for studying the biological foundations of language. In particular, researchers have begun to identify genes implicated in developmental disorders that disrupt speech and language skills. My talk will illustrate how such work can provide powerful entry points into 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 deficits 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 it has 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. Overall, the FOXP2 story illustrates the value of an interdisciplinary approach for unravelling the complicated connections between genes, neurons, brain circuits and language.

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