Public Release: 

Brain imaging study explains Williams syndrome language gifts

University of California - Los Angeles

Findings: A team of neuroscientists led by UCLA researchers used a novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique to create the first detailed images showing how Williams syndrome affects the cerebral cortex. The study finds sharply defined cortical thickening and complexity in the area of the brain important to language.

Impact: The isolated, thickened cortical region in language areas is remarkable because patients with Williams syndrome show marked strengths in language and related abilities. The ability to map these abnormalities in living patients demonstrates how genes control development of the human cortex, and also aids clinical prognosis and understanding of the syndrome's underlying genetic trigger.

Background: Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by heart defects, abnormalities in the outer layer of the brain, or cerebral cortex, and mild to moderate mental retardation. In addition, people with Williams syndrome often demonstrate high proficiency in language skills, social drive and musical ability. The syndrome affects 1 in 20,000 individuals.

Author: The lead author is Paul Thompson, associate professor in residence of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.


Funder: National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Journal: The April 20, 2005, edition of Journal of Neuroscience. Graphics related to the study, and the full article, are available online at: .

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