Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How young mice phone home: Study gives clue to how mothers' brains screen for baby calls

Emory University researchers have identified a surprising mechanism in the brains of mother mice that focuses their awareness on the calls of baby mice. Their study, published June 11 in Neuron, found that the high-frequency sounds of mice pups stand out in a mother's auditory cortex by inhibiting the activity of neurons more attuned to lower frequency sounds.

"Previous research has focused on how the excitation of neurons can detect or interpret sounds, but this study shows the key role that inhibition may play in real situations," said Robert Liu, assistant professor of biology and senior author of the study.

In 2007, Liu and colleagues were the first to demonstrate that the behavioral context in which communication sounds are heard affects the brain's ability to detect, discriminate and respond to them. Specifically, the researchers found that the auditory neurons of female mice that had given birth were better at detecting and discriminating vocalizations from mice pups than auditory neurons in virgin females.

Experiments on awake mice
While that experiment was done with anesthetized mice, the current study by Liu's lab is the first to record the activity of neurons in the auditory cortex of awake mice. Both female mice that had given birth and virgin female mice with no experience caring for mice pups were used in the study.

When exposed to the high-frequency whistles of mice pups, which fall into the 60 to 80 kilohertz range, a large area of neurons in the auditory cortex of the mother mice was more strongly inhibited than in the virgin mice. The pattern of excitation of neurons was similar, however, for both the mothers and virgins.

"Something different is happening in the mothers' brains when they are processing the same sound, and this difference is consistent," Liu said. "The inhibition of neurons appears to be enhancing the contrast in the sound of mice pups, so they stand out more in the acoustic environment."

Showing neural plasticity

Liu's research focuses on how the brain evolves to process sounds in the natural environment. "By understanding normal functioning of the auditory processes in the brain, then we can begin to understand what is breaking down in disease situations, such as following a stroke or brain lesion," he said.

Until recently, it had been widely assumed that the auditory cortex acted simply as a static filter, and that areas downstream in the brain did the complex task of learning to parse meaning from sounds.

"What our experiments help demonstrate is that even at this relatively early stage of cortical sound processing, responses are dynamic," Liu said. "The auditory cortex has plasticity, so that sounds that become behaviorally relevant to us can get optimized."

More research is needed, he added, to determine whether the changes in the brains of mother mice is due to hormonal shifts, the behavioral experience of caring for pups, or both.

The study authors include Edgar Galindo-Leon, a post-doctoral fellow in Liu's lab, and Frank Lin, a graduate student in the lab. Their research was funded by the National Institute for Deafness and Communication Disorders and the NSF Center for Behavioral Neuroscience.

Carol Clark | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>