Mice That Sing w/their Brains – Chicago Brain Buddies breaking news

Steven phelps is a is a really
interesting scientist that at UT-Austin and I actually know him through the
Twitterverse and he’s a spectacular person stays animal behavior and he knew about these mice and somehow he got talking to Michael long who’s a really
spectacular scientist at NYU who studies communication he sees birdsong
laboratory mouse communication and some human communication but along the way I guess these two were talking to each other and and Steve said you know what
about this other species of mouse these singing mice appear to sing to each
other in a polite way shall we say it’s not news that mice make noise all sorts
of animals make noises and vocalize and those vocalizations may even mean
something they may even be interpreted by other members of the species as
something so for example a rat or a mouse that makes an alarm call that
might be information uses information by others that are around all I better get
to a hiding place so we’re talking about it for a couple of reasons first of all
um it’s not a dolphin or a whale and one can actually get them in the laboratory
and do some experiments so they got a few bunch of pairs and what they saw was
that they would sing to each other and how do you know they’re singing to each
other they would wait for a certain amount of time and when this one ended
this one would start and when this one ended this one would start so there are
being responsive as I understand it with the experiment they had two mice who
couldn’t see each other when they’re alone they make songs they don’t do it
that often and they’re relatively short but when there’s another Mouse they make
there they’re exuberant they start to sing a lot and they do it and they make
a longer song and they do it timed to the other ones
it’s song so that’s pretty cool but that’s still not why this is a big
splash the reason it’s a big splash is because they looked at what the neural
control is for this singing so here’s a couple of different examples for how we
could do this we can say here’s motor cortex and I’m gonna send a signal down
to brain stem to actually an area that I used to study a lot an area called the
periaqueductal gray volved in vocalization and i can just tell it to
sing and then the periaqueductal gray will put out a song that’s one option
and the other option is that the motor cortex is going to give specific
instructions to the periaqueductal gray as to what to sing so to try and figure
which of those was going on they started to muck around with the motor cortex of
these singing mice so the first thing they did was to stimulate in this area
they just put a little electrode and they stimulating they just take it you
know a little bit of current what stimulation does is to pause the song so
how does it pause it that’s the really interesting thing that’s the really
interesting analysis they did there are two possibilities one that it would be
just like you put it on pause and it would just pick up for the boss of the
song would pick up where you stopped the other word was that it would be as if
you you put the turned off the sound and the song kept playing and they would
pick up later on in the song or some variation on those two things right and
so and so what they found was that it put it on pause and then it picked up
where it had left off it suggests that the motor cortex is timing the song and
that that is not a production of the of the P AG of the periaqueductal gray
which is still going along but unless it gets this input from the
motor cortex it it doesn’t continue to make the song right so it is a very
hierarchical it’s a very high-level control system where the motor cortex
doesn’t say make a syllable the route that the mouse does not make a syllable
it would just say that the the breathing and vocal that all those kind of
mechanisms that go into creating a song are tight it’s not an automatic tape the
motor cortex is being micromanager here it’s saying I’m gonna do each one of
these syllables right and if you pull me okay I didn’t do them so I got us you
know I gotta pick up where I left off and you know one of the things that
reading the paper that I hadn’t really I don’t really give a lot of thought to
how complex a conversation really is you know that you have to pay attention in
context to what is being said in context then answer in context with the proper
timing then shut up listen for the other it’s a muscle you know one of the really
interesting things about these songs is that they’re made of syllables okay
little short bits that are continuous and then there’s a short little break
and then there’s another one and each of the syllables as the song progresses the
syllables get longer and longer in length in duration what that tells us is
that the motor cortex is directing the downstream areas mostly we think about
the PA G to make syllables of a certain length and it doesn’t just trust it
doesn’t say okay make a song it says make a syllable and if I can’t if I
motor cortex don’t tell you to make a syllable don’t make a syllable you don’t
make a syllable and you’re gonna wait for me I thought that was a really cool
part of the project one of the things that I also thought and it was mentioned
in the papers was that it reminds you that it was it could’ve won
particular kind of mouse that tends to get studied a lot you know this yeah
common the kind of common mouse is the yeah that’s kind of our the the official
Mouse for scientific research in there are whole this was a specie of mouse
that guy people’s like you don’t routinely we’re restricting ourselves um
intellect actually by restricting ourselves to a very low number of
species that we study um and so studying that these animals I think is expands
intellectual horizons I don’t think anyone was thinking that mice could have
this kind of reciprocal conversation even if we don’t know exactly what
they’re saying and even if what they’re saying doesn’t have grammar which I
would suspect it doesn’t it’s just an utterance but it’s still communication
and it’s still a two-way street and they have to listen to respond at the right
time so that actually leads to the the next thing that they did which was to
cool down the motor cortex and in that situation when they cool down the motor
cortex what happens is it takes longer for them to make these syllables
so now motor cortex is telling the periaqueductal gray make a 50
millisecond syllable but it’s saying it make 5 56 millisecond syllables so
saying it so slowly that it’s not at 50 milliseconds syllable it’s longer and so
as you go across these syllables are getting longer and the whole song gets
longer but it progresses it progresses more slowly but it’s not a song it’s
still the same song it’s just slowed down and if you slow it if you cool it
by 3 degrees it slows down this much and if you cool it by 6 degrees it slows
down even more so that’s all very consistent with this idea that the motor
cortex is a micromanager and the final thing that they did was
instead of cooling they used a pharmacological approach to inactivate
the motor cortex they injected something called musa mall which is a drug that
acts as though it’s gaba and as you may remember gaba is a neurotransmitter it’s
also an amino acid but it’s an amino acid neurotransmitter that is the most
common inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and so it’s gonna just slow
everything down so there are a few really interesting things they still
saying spontaneously but when they put them useful into the motor cortex the
responsiveness was off so if they put saline which is not does nothing
it’s a pharmacologically inert they this Mouse sings and then this mouse sings
right at the right at the offset of this one but if they put in the museum all
and they inhibit that motor cortex Mouse sings and sometimes somewhere around
here the mouse the other mouse would saying but often not so what it’s doing
is it’s it’s disrupting this polite responsiveness which is really a
phenomenal thing you think of motor cortex as as much less um – than
politeness yeah you think responsiveness as being very prefrontal cortex but in
this situation it looks as though the motor cortex is intimately involved in
this turn taking that the mice do what’s exciting about that is that it’s not as
though they can’t sing because they sing spontaneously what they can’t do is
respond politely they found a polite circuit okay but so
and it’s and it’s certainly it’s easy to imagine the utility of that in an
evolutionary sense assuming because the kazi’s they use these vocalizations for
mating right and for just general communication within the territory
territory for sure what’s really neat about this is that it’s a new finding
it’s a new species that hasn’t been on the neurobiology radar we have our
squids we have our octopus pusses we have our zebrafish yeah sea slugs for
sure we’ve all sorts of model organisms and this is a new one and so I think
that’s really exciting it’s just such a beautifully creative um study now well
that was another thing that I it was described as the beautiful and elegant
experiment what the heck does it mean before an experiment to be beautiful and
elegant I like the the novelty of it here we have this new animal that we
hadn’t thought about and it takes somebody such as Steve Phelps to know
about this animal I actually see the experiments is pretty simple and I like
the elegance of simple it’s you know it’s there’s technology there but it’s
pretty simple technology these are techniques that have been around for a
long time it’s nice that you can describe this to virtually any way that
we can understand it you play the recording of the mouse and it to some
very given various manipulations with various intervals the other possible
answer and then yeah I’m infer from that what you like but it’s nice as you say
it is nice and simple and you can expect on a single sheet of paper if you want
to but of course they didn’t it was a much longer series of papers but you
could explain it to a layperson with relative ease and that’s kind of cool
and it’s a very high falutin function yes gaff communication is a big deal
even if that communication doesn’t have syntax or grammar or and it can’t tell
you about mathematics or art but it still can communicate and it
communicates obviously well enough for these animals to survive in their
environment so it’s good enough for evolution so that’s pretty good