Melbourne: A gene which is known for its role in enabling speech and language also helps regulate the wiring of neurons in the brain, scientists have discovered.The finding, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, could help scientists understand the unusual aspects of the brain function better, the researchers said.

The study, led by Dr Sonja Vernes and Dr Simon Fisher of the University of Oxford in England, found that the gene Foxp2 acts as a genetic dimmer switch, turning up or down the amount of protein product made by nerve cells.

The team analysed brain tissue from mouse embryos and found that Foxp2 modulates several hundred genes, many of which influence connections between nerve cells.

They were also able to demonstrate in vivo that the loss of Foxp2 affects certain genes central to brain development and that the levels of the gene vary in different parts of the brain, the ABC news reported.

To further explore the function of Foxp2, the team studied cultured nerve cells from embryonic mice that contain a genetic mutation in the gene.

The cells, they found, had fewer and shorter neuritis, spike-like projections that extend from the nerve cell.

The Foxp2 gene codes for a regulatory protein called a transcription factor. The genetic sequence present in all animal species, which reflects its importance.

In humans, Foxp2 is implicated in speech and language disorders; in birds it influences their ability to learn songs; and in mice it affects learning of movement sequences.

Dr Fisher said: "Studies like this are crucial for building bridges between genes and complex aspects of brain function."

Calling it a landmark study, Kirrie Ballard of Sydney University said: "It will assist in understanding, from a behavioural perspective, the potential extent of the affect of Foxp2 mutations on speech and language systems."