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October 11, 2012

Mice Can Sing!

CBS News:

The newest singing sensation in the animal kingdom? Mice. The creatures not only sing ultrasonic melodies high above sopranos, distinct from their regular squeaks, but they also learn new tunes from each other, researchers report today.

Song learning is known to exist in humans, dolphins, songbirds and parrots, but the new research overthrows a 50-year assumption that mouse vocalizing is inborn and instead shows that mice have a rudimentary vocal system to control their vocal cords and learn new tunes.

"The mouse brain and behavior for vocal communication is not as primitive and as innate as myself and many other scientists have considered it to be," senior author Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University, told LiveScience. "Mice have more similarities in their vocal communication with humans than other species like our closest relatives," Jarvis added, referring to chimpanzees.

Generally, vocalizing comes from a coordinated effort between the brain's motor cortex, which controls voluntary muscles, and the vocal cords in the larynx. Jarvis and colleagues found a rudimentary indirect connection in mice between the two, absent in chimpanzees and monkeys.

The findings may also impact human speech disorders such as those found in autism, commonly studied in mice genetically engineered to mimic the disorders. Jarvis, who studies how language works and evolves, set out to demonstrate and verify that mice didn't have brain connections to learn singing behavior.

In their study, the researchers destroyed the motor control region in mice and then tested their singing abilities. The altered mice could still sing, "but they weren't able to modulate or stay on pitch on their songs as they were before," Jarvis said.

The inborn ability to vocalize is built into the brain stem of mice, whereas pitch modulation and melody comes from the rudimentary motor control center, Jarvis hypothesized. Read more.

Posted by acapnews at October 11, 2012 12:00 AM