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Genes Brain Behav. 2015 Nov;14(8):583-90. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12237. Epub 2015 Aug 25.

A humanized version of Foxp2 does not affect ultrasonic vocalization in adult mice.

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Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany.
Institut Necker-Enfants Malades (INEM), Centre de Médecine Moléculaire, CS Paris, France.
Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Biology II, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, Martinsried, Germany.


The transcription factor FOXP2 has been linked to severe speech and language impairments in humans. An analysis of the evolution of the FOXP2 gene has identified two amino acid substitutions that became fixed after the split of the human and chimpanzee lineages. Studying the functional consequences of these two substitutions in the endogenous Foxp2 gene of mice showed alterations in dopamine levels, striatal synaptic plasticity, neuronal morphology and cortico-striatal-dependent learning. In addition, ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) of pups had a significantly lower average pitch than control littermates. To which degree adult USVs would be affected in mice carrying the 'humanized' Foxp2 variant remained unclear. In this study, we analyzed USVs of 68 adult male mice uttered during repeated courtship encounters with different females. Mice carrying the Foxp2(hum/hum) allele did not differ significantly in the number of call elements, their element structure or in their element composition from control littermates. We conclude that neither the structure nor the usage of USVs in adult mice is affected by the two amino acid substitutions that occurred in FOXP2 during human evolution. The reported effect for pup vocalization thus appears to be transient. These results are in line with accumulating evidence that mouse USVs are hardly influenced by vocal learning. Hence, the function and evolution of genes that are necessary, but not sufficient for vocal learning in humans, must be either studied at a different phenotypic level in mice or in other organisms.


Communication; FOXP2; evolution; learning; mice; speech; ultrasound; vocalization

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