Humanized Mice Squeak Smarter

Now they've gone and done it. They took a human gene thought to be partly responsible for language and stuck it in a mouse! This gene is called the FOXP2. In 1998, it was pinpointed as the cause of a genetic language defect in a large London family, and ever since then it's caused a bit of a stir for evolutionary biologists and linguists alike.

Introduction of Human FOXP2 Substitutions into Mice

You can get the full results of the study from this scientific article, or I'll just sum up a few of the more interesting points for you.

The Human FOXP2 Gene Increases the Length of Dendritic Trees
  • The human version of the FOXP2 gene substitutes perfectly for the mouse version, with the only apparent effects showing up in the brain.
  • Humanized mice grew more nerve cells with more complex structure in their basal ganglia, an area known to be important for human language.
  • The whistles of baby mice separated from their mothers were slightly lower in pitch among mice with the human gene.
  • Humanized mice showed decreased exploratory behavior and lower concentrations of dopamine in the brain.
  • The overall effects of giving mice the human FOXP2 gene were in the opposite direction from impairing one of their FOXP2s (which in humans causes language impairment).

Here's a nice video summary as well. Very helpful in case you feel a little lost or just to get a better grasp on the whole thing.

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