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Annu Rev Genomics Hum Genet. 2011;12:145-64. doi: 10.1146/annurev-genom-090810-183119.

Genetics of speech and language disorders.

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National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Vocal communication mediated by speech and language is a uniquely human trait, and has served an important evolutionary role in the development of our species. Deficits in speech and language functions can be of numerous types, including aphasia, stuttering, articulation disorders, verbal dyspraxia, and specific language impairment; language deficits are also related to dyslexia. Most communication disorders are prominent in children, where they are common. A number of these disorders have been shown to cluster in families, suggesting that genetic factors are involved, but their etiology at the molecular level is not well understood. In the past decade, genetic methods have proven to be powerful for understanding these etiologies. Linkage studies and molecular genetic analyses in a large family containing multiple individuals affected with verbal dyspraxia led to the discovery of mutations in the FOXP2 gene. This gene encodes a forkhead domain transcription factor, a finding that has led researchers to a new avenue of investigation into the substrates and mechanisms that underlie human speech development. In studies of stuttering, linkage and candidate gene approaches in consanguineous families identified mutations in the lysosomal enzyme-targeting pathway genes GNPTAB, GNPTG, and NAGPA, revealing a role for inherited defects in cell metabolism in this disorder. In specific language impairment, linkage studies have identified several loci, and candidate gene association studies are making progress in identifying causal variants at these loci. Although only a small fraction of all cases of speech and language disorders can be explained by genetic findings to date, the significant progress made thus far suggests that genetic approaches will continue to provide important avenues for research on this group of disorders.

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