A functional genetic link between distinct developmental language disorders

Sonja C. Vernes, Dianne F. Newbury, Brett S. Abrahams, Laura Winchester, Jérôme Nicod, Matthias Groszer, Maricela Alarcón, Peter L. Oliver, Kay E. Davies, Daniel H. Geschwind, Anthony P. Monaco, Simon E. Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

495 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Rare mutations affecting the FOXP2 transcription factor cause a monogenic speech and language disorder. We hypothesized that neural pathways downstream of FOXP2 influence more common phenotypes, such as specific language impairment. METHODS: We performed genomic screening for regions bound by FOXP2 using chromatin immunoprecipitation, which led us to focus on one particular gene that was a strong candidate for involvement in language impairments. We then tested for associations between single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in this gene and language deficits in a well-characterized set of 184 families affected with specific language impairment. RESULTS: We found that FOXP2 binds to and dramatically down-regulates CNTNAP2, a gene that encodes a neurexin and is expressed in the developing human cortex. On analyzing CNTNAP2 polymorphisms in children with typical specific language impairment, we detected significant quantitative associations with nonsense-word repetition, a heritable behavioral marker of this disorder (peak association, P = 5.0×10-5 at SNP rs17236239). Intriguingly, this region coincides with one associated with language delays in children with autism. CONCLUSIONS: The FOXP2-CNTNAP2 pathway provides a mechanistic link between clinically distinct syndromes involving disrupted language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2337-2345
Number of pages9
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 27 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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