Schizophrenia and Human Self-Domestication: An Evolutionary Linguistics Approach

Lorena Di Pietro, Wanda Lattanzi, Marta Barba, Antonio Benítez-Burraco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Schizophrenia (SZ) is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder that entails social and cognitive deficits, including marked language problems. Its complex multifactorial etiopathogenesis, including genetic and environmental factors, is still widely uncertain. SZ incidence has always been high and quite stable in human populations, across time and regardless of cultural implications, for unclear reasons. It has been hypothesized that SZ pathophysiology may involve the biological components that changed during the recent human evolutionary history, and led to our distinctive mode of cognition, which includes language skills. In this paper we explore this hypothesis, focusing on the self-domestication of the human species. This has been claimed to account for many human-specific distinctive traits, including aspects of our behavior and cognition, and to favor the emergence of complex languages through cultural evolution. The “domestication syndrome” in mammals comprises the constellation of traits exhibited by domesticated strains, seemingly resulting from the hypofunction of the neural crest. It is our intention to show that people with SZ exhibit more marked domesticated traits at the morphological, physiological, and behavioral levels. We also show that genes involved in domestication and neural crest development and function comprise nearly 20% of SZ candidates, most of which exhibit altered expression profiles in the brain of SZ patients, specifically in areas involved in language processing. Based on these observations, we conclude that SZ may represent an abnormal ontogenetic itinerary for the human faculty of language, resulting, at least in part, from changes in genes important for the domestication syndrome and primarily involving the neural crest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-184
Number of pages23
JournalBRAIN BEHAVIOR AND EVOLUTION
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Schizophrenia · Domestication · Neural crest · Language impairment · Language evolution · Candidate genes · Gene expression profile

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