British scientists show genetic cause for speech disorder

LONDON (AP) — Researchers have proved a genetic cause for a severe speech disorder afflicting one British family — a discovery that could lead to earlier diagnosis and improved treatment of childhood language problems.
“We knew language disorders were genetic, but nobody had found a gene location before,” Dr. Anthony Monaco of Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics said Tuesday.
Identifying the gene might lead to earlier diagnosis — and earlier treatment — of childhood speech problems that are related to defects in motor skills, the researchers said.
A researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey agreed the British team had made an important finding for the study of neurological development, even if it is unclear how useful it can be to the majority of those with language disorders.
The work is reported in the February issue of the journal Nature Genetics.
About 4 percent of children worldwide have language problems. Those include children unable to understand language, those who understand but cannot articulate because of a defect in motor skills and those who cannot structure speech properly, even though they understand language and have the motor ability to speak.
For the last decade, Monaco and his team have been studying a family of 30 with an unusually high incidence of a speech disorder related to defective motor skills. The disorder, which affects half the family members, is caused by a defect in a gene involved with brain development, he said.
By testing the family members’ blood, Monaco has narrowed the search for the gene from the 100,000 genes in the human cell to 100 possible genes, bunched together on a chromosome.