Jana Petri, Doctoral Fellow.
FOXP2 is the first gene implicated in the human specific traits speech and language because mutations of FOXP2 (a member of the winged-helix/forkhead box transcription factor gene family) were identified in individuals with severe difficulty articulating speech . Morphological and functional analysis of patients' brain implicate the basal ganglia in the etiology of the impairment . Since song learning in birds critically depends on the basal ganglia, we are interested in the role of FoxP2 in the development and function of song-relevant neural circuitry in zebra finches.
A striatal song nucleus, Area X, is known to play a crucial role during male zebra finches learn their song . Interestingly, FoxP2 is overexpressed in Area X during song learning and thus is speculated to be involved in the song learning process . Little is known about the molecular function of FoxP2. In adult mice it was shown to be highly expressed in lung tissue and was further characterized as a transcriptional repressor for a lung specific gene with the help of a reporter assay in vitro . The identification of target genes of the transcription factor FoxP2 will help to understand its molecular role in song learning and human speech acquisition. My current project aims to identify molecular interaction partners of the zebra finch FoxP2 with the help of a number of in vitro and in vivo approaches, including Chromatin Immunoprecipitation.
(1) Lai, C.S., et al., A forkhead-domain gene is mutated in a severe speech and language disorder. Nature, 2001. 413(6855): p. 519-23.
(2) Scharff, C. and Nottebohm, F., A comparative study of the behavioral deficits following lesions of various parts of the zebra finch song system: implications for vocal learning. J Neurosci., 1991. 11(9): p. 2896-913
(3) Haesler, S., et al., FoxP2 expression in avian vocal learners and non-learners. J Neurosci, 2004. 24(13): p. 3164-75.
(4) Shu, W., et al., Characterization of a new subfamily of winged-helix/forkhead (Fox) genes that are expressed in the lung and act as transcriptional repressors. J Biol Chem, 2001. 276(29): p. 27488-97.