Goettingen scientists question the utility of mice to explore the foundations of vocal learning
The human language is unique in that we can refer to objects, events and ideas. The combination of syllables and words enables humans to generate an infinite number of expressions. An important prerequisite for language is the ability to imitate sounds, i.e. to store acquired acoustic information and to use this for one’s own vocal production.
Cortical structures in the brain play a crucial role in this. While songbirds and certain marine mammals are capable of such vocal learning, there is very little evidence for vocal learning in terrestrial mammals – not even in our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees. Nonhuman primate vocal production is largely restricted to an innate repertoire of sounds. In order to explain the foundations of vocal learning, mice attracted increasing attention in recent years.
They are more closely related to humans than birds or dolphins, vocalize frequently, and there are numerous so-called "mouse models", where certain genes can deliberately be manipulated. Besides, there was some evidence that to a certain extent mice could be capable of vocal learning. In their recently published study, Julia Fischer and Kurt Hammerschmidt of the German Primate Center (DPZ) in Goettingen together with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry have shown that mice are less suited to study the foundations of vocal learning than previously assumed. Animals that do not have a cerebral cortex due to a genetic defect do not differ from healthy mice in their vocalization (“song”). Their vocalizations are thus controlled in evolutionarily older brain areas and are not dependent on cortical processing (Published in Scientific Reports).
One of the most pressing questions in human evolution is the emergence of language. We have the ability to imitate words and learn how to use them in certain appropriate situations. Both for higher-order processing of sounds as well as for the planning of vocalizations, the cerebral cortex is essential. There are numerous studies of songbirds, bats, and increasingly of mice that deal with the fundamentals of vocal learning. However, the studies in mice are currently contradictory: It was previously disputed as to whether mice are able to change their vocalization due to imitation or learning. Together with Gregor Eichele and Gabriela Whelan of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Julia Fischer and Kurt Hammerschmidt of the German Primate Center examined the ultrasonic sounds of mice that did not have a cerebral cortex due to a genetic defect and compared these with the sounds of their siblings with a normal brain.
The researchers focused on two characteristic vocalizations of the mice. First, they examined so-called isolation calls that occur when young mice are separated from the mother. Since nine-day-old mice that were still incapable of hearing made these calls, Fischer and her colleagues were not surprised that the calls of the mice without a cerebral cortex did not differ from those of control mice. Second, they studied the “song” of adult males, which is used to attract females. The fact that there was no difference in neither the occurrence of calling nor the acoustic quality of the songs uttered by males with and without cerebral cortex, was a rather unexpected findings for the scientists.
„Apparently, the vocalization of mice is controlled by evolutionarily older areas of the brain," says Julia Fischer, Head of Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the German Primate Center. Other than in humans, the cerebral cortex is not as important in the vocal communication of mice. "Mice are therefore less suitable for the study of the mechanisms that support vocal learning", she concluded. “Nevertheless, we believe that they are valuable models for the study of the genetic fundamentals of social behavior”, she added.
Hammerschmidt, K., Whelan, G., Eichele, G. & Fischer, J. Mice lacking the cerebral cortex develop normal song: Insights into the foundations of vocal learning. Sci. Rep. 5, 8808, DOI:10.1038/srep08808 (2015).
Prof. Dr. Julia Fischer
Tel.: +49 551 3851-375
Dr. Susanne Diederich (PR)
Tel: +49 551 3851-359
Printable pictures are available in our Media library. We kindly request a specimen copy in case of publication.
The German Primate Center (DPZ) – Leibniz Institute for Primate Research conducts biological and biomedical research on and with primates in the fields of infection research, neuroscience and primate biology. The DPZ maintains four field stations in the tropics and is the reference and service center for all aspects of primate research. The DPZ is one of 89 research and infrastructure facilities of the Leibniz Association.
http://www.dpz.eu - Webpage of the German Primate Center
http://www.dpz.eu/en/unit/cognitive-ethology/about-us.html - Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, German Primate Center
https://www.mpibpc.mpg.de/eichele - Gregor Eichele, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
Dr. Susanne Diederich | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Stabile Biradikale erzeugt
22.03.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Weniger Insektizide durch natürliche Räuber
21.03.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Die chinesische Raumstation Tiangong-1 wird in wenigen Wochen in die Erdatmosphäre eintreten und zu einem großen Teil verglühen. Dabei können auch Trümmerteile den Erdboden erreichen. Tiangong-1 kreist unkontrolliert und mit ca. 29 000 km/h um die Erde. Die Wiedereintrittsprognose kann derzeit nur im Bereich von mehreren Tagen angegeben werden. Die Wissenschaftler des Fraunhofer FHR in Wachtberg bei Bonn beobachten Tiangong-1 bereits seit Wochen mit ihrem TIRA (Tracking and Imaging Radar) System, einem der leistungsfähigsten Radare zur Weltraumbeobachtung weltweit, um das nationale Weltraumlagezentrum und die ESA mit ihrer Expertise bei den Wiedereintrittsprognosen zu unterstützen.
Nach Verlust des Funkkontakts mit Tiangong-1 im Jahr 2016 ist es aufgrund der niedrigen Bahnhöhe unausweichlich, dass die chinesische Raumstation in die...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
Das Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP, Forschungs- und Entwicklungsanbieter für OLED-Beleuchtungslösungen, ist seit 19. März 2018 Teil des neu gegründeten „OLED Licht Forums“ und präsentiert auf der light+building vom 18. – 23. März 2018, in Frankfurt a.M., in Halle 4.0 am Stand Nr. F91, neue OLED-Design- und Beleuchtungslösungen.
Sie vereint die große Leidenschaft für die OLED-Beleuchtung (organische Leuchtdioden) mit all ihren Facetten und Anwendungsmöglichkeiten. Daher haben sich...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
20.03.2018 | Veranstaltungen
19.03.2018 | Veranstaltungen
19.03.2018 | Veranstaltungen
21.03.2018 | Physik Astronomie
21.03.2018 | Medizin Gesundheit
21.03.2018 | Agrar- Forstwissenschaften