Genetic insights into the functional elements of language
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- Szalontai, A. & Csiszar, K. Hum Genet (2013) 132: 959. doi:10.1007/s00439-013-1317-0
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Language disorders cover a wide range of conditions with heterologous and overlapping phenotypes and complex etiologies harboring both genetic and environmental influences. Genetic approaches including the identification of genes linked to speech and language phenotypes and the characterization of normal and aberrant functions of these genes have, in recent years, unraveled complex details of molecular and cognitive mechanisms and provided valuable insight into the biological foundations of language. Consistent with this approach, we have reviewed the functional aspects of allelic variants of genes which are currently known to be either causally associated with disorders of speech and language or impact upon the spectrum of normal language ability. We have also reviewed candidate genes associated with heritable speech and language disorders. In addition, we have evaluated language phenotypes and associated genetic components in developmental syndromes that, together with a spectrum of altered language abilities, manifest various phenotypes and offer details of multifactorial determinants of language function. Data from this review have revealed a predominance of regulatory networks involved in the control of differentiation and functioning of neurons, neuronal tracks and connections among brain structures associated with both cognitive and language faculties. Our findings, furthermore, have highlighted several multifactorial determinants in overlapping speech and language phenotypes. Collectively this analysis has revealed an interconnected developmental network and a close association of the language faculty with cognitive functions, a finding that has the potential to provide insight into linguistic hypotheses defining in particular, the contribution of genetic elements to and the modular nature of the language faculty.