Molecular Genetics of Speech and Language

About us

Research in the Newbury lab centres around genetic contributions to speech and language. Our research focuses upon developmental speech and language disorders and the neurogenetic processes underlying speech and language development.

Studies show that developmental language disorders run in families - a brother or sister of someone who has already been diagnosed will have an increased risk of developing the disorder themselves. There are 2 possible situations which may explain this observation:

  • something in the family environment causes the language disorder
  • developmental language disorders are genetic and are therefore caused (at least in part) by the genes passed on from parents to children.

Although there is strong evidence for the role of a genetic component in language disorder, we do not know which genes contribute to this disorder or how the inheritance of language problems work. In most cases, it is likely that several genes combine to bring about a heightened risk of disorder. This is known as a complex genetic disorder. Working closely with other collaborators active in this field, we aim to identify specific genetic variants that cause this predisposition and to investigate the kinds of biological processes that they take part in.

Dianne Newbury's publications

Researcher working in lab

Research impact

Approximately 10% of children are affected by speech, language or communication impairments at school entry in the UK (Norbury et al., 2016). As a group, these children are less likely to meet educational targets (Norbury et al., 2015) and more likely to display symptoms of social, emotional and behavioural problems when compared to their peers (Norbury et al., 2016).

But yet, we do not know why some children have language difficulties or how these difficulties relate to other aspects of neurodevelopment and behaviour. In our lab, we are trying to identify genetic factors that might play a role in these disorders. We investigate this problem through a mixture of research questions and by studying individuals, families and populations.

This research is important because it will help us to understand why some children have language difficulties and what brain processes are important in language learning. It may allow us to identify new kinds of language disorders and will clarify the relationships between language impairment and other developmental disorders.


Dianne Newbury

Dr Dianne Newbury

Senior Lecturer

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Name Thesis Title Supervisors Completed
Alison Cotton Special Educational Needs in the children and families of Armed Forces Personnel; are they over-represented and why might this be the case? Dr Dianne Newbury, Professor Vincent Connelly


Gabrielle Mastrolonardo Investigating the functional role of NFXL1 in the developing brain and how it relates to speech and language development Dr Barbara Jennings, Dr Dianne Newbury, Professor Esther Becker


Jessica Peixihno Unravelling the genetic relationships between auditory processing and speech and language Dr Dianne Newbury



Active projects

Project title and description Investigator(s) Funder(s) Dates

Backwards Speech

We recently published a report of a family with an unusual language ability; they can rapidly, accurately and voluntarily speak backwards. Genetic sequencing revealed a rare change in the genetic sequence that was only found in family members with the ability to speak backwards. We are characterising the effects of this coding change upon protein function to try to link the change at the genetic sequence to a neurological mechanism that might explain their exceptional memory.
Dr Dianne Newbury Leverhulme Trust From: May 2018
Until: September 2021

Programa Educacional para a promocao da Linguagem Infantil (PROLIN)

This project aims to investigate how and why educational interventions work. It builds upon an existing intervention programme and is working with teachers and caregivers to better understand the factors that challenge effective implementation.
Dr Dianne Newbury British Academy, University of Oxford, Universidade Federal de São Paulo From: December 2019
Until: May 2022

Robinson Crusoe

This project works with the population of the Robinson Crusoe Island in Chile. These families are affected by a high incidence of speech and language disorders. We use high-throughput genetic technologies (association and sequencing) to identify genetic variants that are more common in affected individuals than expected by chance. We consider if there are genetic factors which explain the high prevalence of speech and language disorders in the Robinson Crusoe population? 
Dr Dianne Newbury MRC, University of Oxford, Universidad de Chile, University of Birmingham From: January 2012

Cerebral Asymmetry: New Directions in Correlates and Etiology (CANDICE)

This project investigates speech and language development and laterality in individuals who have an extra sex chromosome. The presence of an extra sex chromosome is known to increase the risk of neurodevelopmental problems but we do not know why. We are looking at differences within genes known as neuroligins to see if these may contribute to this effect.
Professor Dorothy Bishop ERC From: January 2016
Until: August 2021

Using gene networks to identify genes that contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders

Recent studies (Bengani et al 2017, den Hoed et al 2021) have shown that variants that lead to the loss of function of the SATB genes (SATB1 or SATB2) can cause severe neurodevelopmental disorder. In this project, we are screening interactors of these proteins to identify other genes that might be linked to developmental disorders.
Dr Dianne Newbury Rosetrees Trust From: June 2021
Until: June 2022

Completed projects

Project title and description Investigator(s) Funder(s) Dates

Chilean Language and Reading Alliance (CLARA)

This project aimed to deliver a reading intervention programme on the Robinson Crusoe Island. The programme used a randomised control trial (RCT) design to evaluate the effects of extra reading support upon language and reading development. Can explicit reading instruction bolster the language and reading development of children at risk of speech and language disorders? This project was in collaboration with researchers from the University of Chile, University of Oxford, University College London, University of Leeds. The findings of the project were published in the International Journal of Educational Research (2020 - DOI:10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101535).

Dr Dianne Newbury ESRC, MRC, Newton Fund From: January 2016
Until: January 2018

Language impairment and pathways to outcomes

Language impairment and pathways to adverse social, educational and mental health outcomes in middle childhood (Co-I): This project aimed to assess genetic overlaps between language disorders and mental health outcomes in children. The Principal Investigator was Dr Umar Toseeb at the University of York and the findings were published in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders (2020 - DOI: 10.1111/1460-6984.12541) and the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research (2019 - DOI: 10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-19-0001).
Dr Umar Toseeb ESRC From: January 2018
Until: January 2019