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Recent Advances in the Genetics of Vocal Learning.


Language is a complex communicative behavior unique to humans, and its genetic basis is poorly understood. Genes associated with human speech and language disorders provide some insights, originating with the FOXP2 transcription factor, a mutation in which is the source of an inherited form of developmental verbal dyspraxia. Subsequently, targets of FOXP2 regulation have been associated with speech and language disorders, along with other genes. Here, we review these recent findings that implicate genetic factors in human speech. Due to the exclusivity of language to humans, no single animal model is sufficient to study the complete behavioral effects of these genes. Fortunately, some animals possess subcomponents of language. One such subcomponent is vocal learning, which though rare in the animal kingdom, is shared with songbirds. We therefore discuss how songbird studies have contributed to the current understanding of genetic factors that impact human speech, and support the continued use of this animal model for such studies in the future.

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