The breath shape controls intonation of mouse vocalizations

Kavli Affiliate: Kevin Yackle

| Authors: Alastair MacDonald and Kevin Yacklei

| Summary:

Intonation in speech is the control of vocal pitch to layer expressive meaning to communication, like increasing pitch to indicate a question. Also, stereotyped patterns of pitch are used to create distinct “words”, like the ten sounds in the murine lexicon. A basic tone is created by exhalation through a constricted laryngeal voice box, and it is thought that more complex utterances are produced solely by dynamic changes in laryngeal tension. But perhaps, the shifting pitch also results from altering the power of exhalation. Consistent with the latter model, we describe that intonation in many adult murine vocalizations follows deviations in exhalation and that the brainstem vocalization central pattern generator, the iRO, can create this breath pattern. Consequently, ectopic activation of the iRO not only induces phonation, but also the pitch patterns that compose most of the vocalizations in the murine lexicon. These results reveal a novel brainstem mechanism for intonation.

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