Of mice, birds, and men: the mouse ultrasonic song system has some features similar to humans and song-learning birds.

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2012

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Abstract

Humans and song-learning birds communicate acoustically using learned vocalizations. The characteristic features of this social communication behavior include vocal control by forebrain motor areas, a direct cortical projection to brainstem vocal motor neurons, and dependence on auditory feedback to develop and maintain learned vocalizations. These features have so far not been found in closely related primate and avian species that do not learn vocalizations. Male mice produce courtship ultrasonic vocalizations with acoustic features similar to songs of song-learning birds. However, it is assumed that mice lack a forebrain system for vocal modification and that their ultrasonic vocalizations are innate. Here we investigated the mouse song system and discovered that it includes a motor cortex region active during singing, that projects directly to brainstem vocal motor neurons and is necessary for keeping song more stereotyped and on pitch. We also discovered that male mice depend on auditory feedback to maintain some ultrasonic song features, and that sub-strains with differences in their songs can match each other's pitch when cross-housed under competitive social conditions. We conclude that male mice have some limited vocal modification abilities with at least some neuroanatomical features thought to be unique to humans and song-learning birds. To explain our findings, we propose a continuum hypothesis of vocal learning.

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10.1371/journal.pone.0046610

Publication Info

Arriaga, Gustavo, Eric P Zhou and Erich D Jarvis (2012). Of mice, birds, and men: the mouse ultrasonic song system has some features similar to humans and song-learning birds. PLoS One, 7(10). p. e46610. 10.1371/journal.pone.0046610 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9303.

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Scholars@Duke

Jarvis

Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.


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