Language production is used as a key benchmark for the wider development of children, but new insight could help identify the underlying causes of delayed speech.
A new study conducted by radiologists and psychologists has suggested that an abnormality on a specific chromosome could signify problems with processing speech and language.
The research further supports the idea that the deleted gene is able to disrupt the biological pathway, and could trigger future investigation into treatments for types of autism, as well as cognitive and language disabilities.
The study shows an important connection between gene differences and neurophysiology, according to lead author Dr Timothy Roberts, vice chair of Radiology Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and a researcher at CHOP's Center for Autism Research.
He said: "It may also help to bridge a largely unexplored gap between genetics and behaviour."
The researchers analysed 115 children, of which 43 had genetic errors on chromosome 16. Previous studies found that this specific location was associated with a subset of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), as well as language impairments and developmental delays.
They used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to detect the magnetic fields in the brain. As each child heard a series of tones, the MEG machine analysed changing magnetic fields in the child's brain, measuring an auditory processing delay called the M100 response latency.
Published in Cerebral Cortex, the study found that children with the deleted gene were significantly slower at recording sound. Dr Roberts described their result as "stunningly high" compared to healthy children.
In contrast, there was no such delay among children with the duplication, who actually had a non-significant tendency to process sounds faster than the control subjects. In the study, Dr Roberts remarked that the delay was a brief interval, but that it meant that a child hearing the word 'elephant' would still be processing the 'el' sound while other children moved on, with delays cascading as a conversation progresses.
Written by James Puckle
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