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Spectrum: Autism Research News

News The latest developments in autism research.

Video: Language’s variable role in autism

by  /  15 October 2012

This article is more than five years old. Autism research - and science in general - is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.

In the late 1990s, before the Human Genome Project had mapped out the precise locations of each gene, Simon Fisher found the first one ever linked to language: FOXP2.

Fisher’s team found it by analyzing the genes of members of one famous British family with a striking and specific language problem: Many of its members cannot properly coordinate parts of words, so their speech comes out garbled.

FOXP2 encodes a protein that turns other genes on and off. In 2008, Fisher and his colleagues showed that among FOXP2’s molecular targets is CNTNAP2, one of the first genes linked to autism.

Fisher, director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, recounted the FOXP2 story in a keynote lecture on Saturday evening at the 2012 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in New Orleans. On Sunday, in a video interview with, he elaborated on FOXP2’s link to autism.

For more reports from the 2012 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, please click here.