Mouse ultrasonic vocalizations: from emission to encoding
Mahrt, Elena Johanna
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Human speech is one of the most important means of communication, and yet we have a poor understanding of how the brain controls speech production and processing. In recent decades, the mouse has become an important model organism for studying mammalian neurophysiology and neural changes that occur as the result of human genetically linked diseases. The purpose of this dissertation is to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying mouse communication, including vocal production and vocal encoding. First, I discovered that mice are not vocal learners. Rather, they are born with the innate ability to produce their ultrasonic social vocalizations with the correct acoustic parameters. Second, I determined that mice use an intra-planar impinging jet whistle mechanism to produce their ultrasonic vocalizations. This is contrary to the previously supported hypothesis of a hole-tone whistle mechanism. Third, I found evidence to further support the hypothesis that mouse auditory midbrain neurons can process their ultrasonic vocalizations by encoding input from low frequency cochlear distortion products created by the vocalizations. Finally, I describe the contributions of GABAergic and glycinergic inhibition in shaping vocalization selectivity in the mouse auditory midbrain. These results increase our understanding of vocal communication in the mouse, including aspects of its vocal behavior, vocal physiology, neural encoding of vocalizations, and finally, its neural discrimination of vocalizations. Collectively, this body of work supports future research with mice as a model organism for mammalian vocal emission and encoding processes.