As research into the neurobiology of language has focused primarily on the systems level, fewer studies have examined the link between molecular genetics and normal variations in language functions. Because the ability to learn a language varies in adults and our genetic codes also vary, research linking the two provides a unique window into the molecular neurobiology of language. We consider a candidate association between the dopamine receptor D2 gene (DRD2) and linguistic grammar learning. DRD2-TAQ-IA polymorphism (rs1800497) is associated with dopamine receptor D2 distribution and dopamine impact in the human striatum, such that A1 allele carriers show reduction in D2 receptor binding relative to carriers who are homozygous for the A2 allele. The individual differences in grammatical rule learning that are particularly prevalent in adulthood are also associated with striatal function and its role in domain-general procedural memory. Therefore, we reasoned that procedurally-based grammar learning could be associated with DRD2-TAQ-IA polymorphism. Here, English-speaking adults learned artificial concatenative and analogical grammars, which have been respectively associated with procedural and declarative memory. Language learning capabilities were tested while learners' neural hemodynamic responses were simultaneously measured by fMRI. Behavioral learning and brain activation data were subsequently compared with the learners' DRD2 (rs1800497) genotype. Learners who were homozygous for the A2 allele were better at concatenative (but not analogical) grammar learning and had higher striatal responses relative to those who have at least one A1 allele. These results provide preliminary evidence for the neurogenetic basis of normal variations in linguistic grammar learning and its link to domain-general functions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)