An international study led by Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) has made a breakthrough in identifying a potential cause of the most severe child speech impediment apraxia.

One in 1,000 children has apraxia, but understating the origins of this debilitating speech disorder has until now remained elusive.

A team of researchers, led by MCRI speech pathologist Professor Angela Morgan, has identified anomalies in a key speech pathway of the brain connected to speech.

Professor Morgan said a better understanding could help neuroscientists and speech pathologists look to develop more targeted treatments for children.

The research paper, 'Dorsal language stream anomalies in an inherited speech disorder' is published in the latest issue of the international journal, Brain.

Professor Morgan, who is also Professor of Speech Pathology at the University of Melbourne, said children with apraxia fail to learn to speak clearly and combine sounds properly, and the timing and sequencing of their words are also affected.

"People struggle to understand what they say, which has major negative long-term effects on their ability to form social relationships, self-esteem, academic achievements and quality of life," Professor Morgan said.

Professor Morgan said the research team was able to identify irregularities in a core brain pathway in apraxia sufferers.

"Normal MRI scans found no anomalies, but we used a very sophisticated scan, that enables Brain Tractography analysis, which measures the integrity of brain pathways," Professor Morgan said.

"We looked at the brains of seven family members with apraxia and found there were core differences in a key brain tract for speech the dorsal language stream."

Professor Morgan said this newly discovered variance in that brain pathway appeared to be critical to how people listen and then produce speech.

Read the research paper.

  • Researchers from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health in London, The University of Melbourne, Victorian Clinical Genetics Services, The Royal Children's Hospital, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Monash University and The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research contributed to the findings.
  • Funding for the study was provided by the Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support Program, the Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant, the March of Dimes research grant, National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia grant, Independent Medical Research Institutes Infrastructure Support Scheme funding, the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre and University College London and a Speech Pathology Australia Nadia Verrall Memorial Research grant.

Available for interview

  • Professor Angela Morgan

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