A gene best known for its role in enabling speech and language also controls how brains are wired, a new study has found.
Lead researchers Dr Sonja Vernes and Dr Simon Fisher of the University of Oxford in England revealed that Foxp2 acts as a genetic dimmer switch, turning up or down the amount of protein product made by nerve cells.
"Foxp2 directly and indirectly regulates networks of genes that alter the length and branching of neuronal projections," ABC Science quoted the researchers as stating.
The team analysed brain tissue from mouse embryos and found that Foxp2 modulates several hundred genes, many of which influence connections between nerve cells.
Fisher and colleagues were also able to demonstrate in vivo that the loss of Foxp2 affects certain genes central to brain development and that the levels of the gene vary in different parts of the brain.
The study was published in the online journal PLOS Genetics.