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Genetic Defect Keeps Verbal Cues from Hitting the Mark

[Source: Science Daily]
A genetic defect that profoundly affects speech in humans also disrupts the ability of songbirds to sing effective courtship tunes. This defect in a gene called FoxP2 renders the brain circuitry insensitive to feel-good chemicals that serve as a reward for speaking the correct syllable or hitting the right note, a recent study shows.
The research, which was conducted in adult zebrafinches, gives insight into how this genetic mutation impairs a network of nerve cells to cause the stuttering and stammering typical of people with FoxP2 mutations. It appears Nov. 21 in an early online edition of the journal Neuron.
“Our results integrate a lot of different observations that have accrued on the FoxP2 mutation and cast a different perspective on what this mutation is doing,” said Richard Mooney, Ph.D., the George Barth Geller professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine and a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. “FoxP2 mutations do not simply result in a cognitive or learning deficit, but also produce an ongoing motor deficit. Individuals with these mutations can still learn and can still improve; it is just harder for them to reliably hit the right mark.”
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