The Chatterbox Gene

“Kerry is a delight to have in class, but she is a bit of a chatterbox”

“Kerry enjoys socializing with the other children a bit too much”

“Kerry gets all of her work done and then distracts the other children”

-Actual excerpts from report cards and teachers notes my parents have received.

Good news for all of us who are blessed with the “Gift of Gab”, or more accurately, whose big mouths tend to get us into trouble regularly. It may not be our fault*! Researchers at the University of Bristol have linked a single nucleotide polymorphism near the ROBO2 gene to early expressive language acquisition in infants. It has been assumed until recently by many that language development was almost entirely attributable to the involvement of parents and caregivers. However, this set of studies show that although sociological factors and learned behaviors do impact the development and use of language, some children advance from the “one-word” and “two-word” phases of language acquisition to the “expressive” phase more easily and earlier than others. By using twin studies, it was determined that this early “chatterbox-ism” was not due to differential educational opportunities. This early acquisition has now been linked to a novel gene locus near the ROBO2 gene on chromosome 3. Babies who possess this sequence develop verbiage and expression through speech at a much higher rate than their non-gene counterparts. The ROBO2 gene is known to play a role in speech and learning and the deletion or alteration of this gene is linked to issues with reading, language acquisition and storage of speech sounds. So it is no surprise that this nearby gene sequence (rs7642482) may very well be responsible for those chatterbox babies (and the loudmouths that they become)!

*The excessive swearing however, is not likely to be genetically linked.

Source: Pourcain et. al. (2014). Common variation near ROBO is associated with expressive vocabulary in infancy. Nature Communications 5:4831.

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