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A genetic pathway to language disorders

One gene’s regulation of another gene may foster a common childhood language disorder

Genes speak to each other in their own molecular dialect. By tracking one such conversation, scientists have identified a genetic relationship that may contribute to the common childhood language disorder known as specific language impairment, or SLI.

A gene called FOXP2 communicates with another gene, contactin-associated protein-like 2, or CNTNAP2. That process hampers the CNTNAP2 ability to make a protein that helps to direct prenatal and later brain growth, say geneticist Simon Fisher of the University of Oxford, England, and his colleagues.

What’s more, children with specific language impairment frequently inherit certain versions of the CNTNAP2 gene, Fisher’s team reports online November 5 in The New England Journal of Medicine. The team suspects that these CNTNAP2 variations are particularly susceptible to FOXP2 regulation.

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