Sloan/Swartz Centers for Theoretical Neurobiology
Annual Summer Meeting 2003


Robert C. Liu, UCSF

Communication and cortex: the computational neuroethology of mouse vocalizations

The availability of a genetically-manipulable animal model for investigating the cortical processing of species-specific vocalizations would enhance our ability to dissect the mechanisms behind the auditory processing of communication sounds.  Towards this goal, a computational neuroethological framework to study ultrasound communication processing in the mouse auditory cortex is being developed.  Isolated mouse pups emit ultrasound whistles that reliably elicit retrievals from adults, and adult males often produce ultrasounds in proximity to adult females.  I have found that pup and adult calls fall into two distinct spectral and temporal categories, providing a means to acoustically distinguish between them, and potentially categorically perceive them along those dimensions.  Given their behavioral importance, these vocalizations are likely robustly represented by the neural activity in auditory cortex.  I have examined the ability of these neurons to follow bouts of pup calls, as well as code their categorical representation.  Establishing the neurophysiology underlying the processing of these calls in the mouse is the first step in building a framework for studying cortical sensory coding that combines neuroethological and genetic methods. 

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