Etiologies and molecular mechanisms of communication disorders

Shelley D. Smith, Elena Grigorenko, Erik Willcutt, Bruce F. Pennington, Richard K. Olson, John C. Defries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Quantitative behavioral genetic studies have made it clear that communication disorders such as reading disability, language impairment, and autism spectrum disorders follow some basic principles: (1) complex disorders have complex causes, in which each clinical disorder is influenced by a number of separate genes; and (2) at least some behaviorally related disorders are influenced by the same genes. Recent advances in molecular and statistical methods have confirmed these principles and are now leading to an understanding of the genes that may be involved in these disorders and how their disruption may affect the development of the brain. The prospect is that the genes involved in these disorders will define a network of interacting neurologic functions and that perturbations of different elements of this network will produce susceptibilities for different disorders. Such knowledge would clarify the underlying deficits in these disorders and could lead to revised diagnostic conceptions. However, these goals are still in the future. Identifying the individual genes in such a network is painstaking, and there have been seemingly contradictory studies along the way. Improvements in study design and additional functional analysis of genes are gradually clarifying many of these issues. When combined with careful phenotypic studies, molecular genetic studies have the potential to refine the clinical definitions of communication disorders and influence their remediation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-563
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • autism
  • dyslexia
  • language impairment
  • molecular genetics
  • reading disability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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