Behavioural analysis of an inherited speech and language disorder: comparison with acquired aphasia.
Watkins KE., Dronkers NF., Vargha-Khadem F.
Genetic speech and language disorders provide the opportunity to investigate the biological bases of language and its development. Critical to these investigations are the definition of behavioural phenotypes and an understanding of their interaction with epigenetic factors. Here, we report our investigations of the KE family, half the members of which are affected by a severe disorder of speech and language, which is transmitted as an autosomal-dominant monogenic trait. The cognitive manifestations of this disorder were investigated using a number of linguistic and non-linguistic tests. The aims of these investigations were to establish the existence of a 'core' deficit, or behavioural phenotype, and to explain how such a deficit during development might give rise to the range of other impairments demonstrated by affected family members. The affected family members were compared both with the unaffected members and with a group of adult patients with aphasia resulting from a stroke. The score on a test of repetition of non-words with complex articulation patterns successfully discriminated the affected and unaffected family members. The affected family members and the patients with aphasia had remarkably similar profiles of impairment on the tests administered. Pre-morbidly, however, the patients with aphasia had enjoyed a normal course of cognitive development and language experience. This benefit was reflected on a number of tests in which the patients with aphasia performed significantly better than the affected family members and, in the case of some tests, at normal levels. We suggest that, in the affected family members, the verbal and non-verbal deficits arise from a common impairment in the ability to sequence movement or in procedural learning. Alternatively, the articulation deficit, which itself might give rise to a host of other language deficits, is separate from a more general verbal and non-verbal developmental delay.