Neuronal substrates of vocal communication in mice
The central question driving my research is: how does our brain enable us to successfully communicate with each other? An essential aspect of this ability is understanding what acoustic features in communication sounds are important for vocal perception, and how neurons in the brain of the listener extracts and use this information. Like humans, mice are social animals who exchange complex patterns of vocal sounds to communicate with each other: mice use “songs”, or sequences of ultrasonic calls, to communicate with each other. However the neuronal mechanisms underlying the recognition and use of auditory cues from vocal sequences by mammals are still not understood. Addressing this questions is the goal of my neuroscience research, primarily conducted at University College London with generous support by the Swiss National Science Foundation and a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust. My research combines natural social behaviour in mice with neuronal ensemble recordings in the auditory cortex and molecular-genetic manipulations of neuronal circuits.
Using natural mouse behaviour, I recently uncovered a critical role of song temporal regularity for mouse vocal communication: mouse listeners are sensitive to disruptions of the rhythmic structure of vocal sequences, and prefer regular over irregular sequences. Vocal temporal regularity is also important for human speech perception: deviations from the expected regularities, such as those introduced by stuttering, can decrease the intelligibility of speech for the listener. To find out more about this study in mice, check out this Twitter summary and short talk.