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A small neuron set includes a mouse pointer switch

DURHAM, N.C. – Researchers at Duke University have isolated a group of neurons in the mouse brain that are key to creating stinging, ultrasound "songs". which a male mouse produces when it dips a potential partner.

In fact, they now understand these neurons well enough to be able to mice at the command or silence it so that they can not sing, even when they want to impress the partner.

This level of understanding and control is a key advance in the ongoing search for mechanisms that enable people to form speech and other sounds of communication. The researchers were mainly interested in producing speech in the brain and worked with singers and mice as models for humans.

"We were interested in understanding how mice produce these" love songs "as we call them in the lab," said Katherine Tschida, who led the research as a postdoctoral associate at the labs of Richard Mooney and Fan Wang in Dube neurobiology.

For this study, Tschida and her colleagues focused on the part of the middle brain called periaqueductal gray, or PAG for a short time, because they knew from the previous work of others that this would be the key player in the vocal round, she said.

With the technology developed by Wang's laboratory, they were able to locate and isolate specific neurons involved in PAG circuits and then experiment on them.

By selective rotation of the neuron by a light-based method called optogenetics, the researchers found that the mouse could immediately begin to sing, although it was alone.

On the other hand, silencing the activity of PAG neurons has made male mice incarceration incapable of singing, even as they persisted in all their other courting behaviors.

It turned out that women are less interested in silent types, which also shows that singing is key to surviving the mouse.

Both experiments firmly confirm that this "stable and different neuron population" is a key channel between behavior and vocal communication, Tschida said. The work will be released on August 7th Neuron, but was published early in mid-June.

"These neurons act as a basis for vocalization, but they do not determine the individual parts of the song," Tschida says. "It's a" gateway "for vocalization."

Tschida, who will join Cornell University next year, says the research will now follow PAG links with downstream neurons that communicate with voice boxes, lungs and mouths, for example. And they will work for the behavioral centers upstream which tell the mouse that a woman is present and that she should start singing.

Researchers hope to create a more complete picture of why mice produce different styles in different contexts. "We know they do it, but they still do not know which parts of the brain trigger behavior," Chida said.

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This research was supported by the National Institute of Health (MH103908, DC13826, MH117778)

CITATION: "Specialized Neural Circuits, Social Vocals in the Mouse," Katherine Tschida, Valerie Michael, Jun Takato, Katsuyasu Sakurai, Richard Mooney, Fan Wang. Neuron, Early online June 13, 2019 DOI: 10.1016 / j.neuron.2019.05.025


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