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Brainstem control of neonatal vocalizations


Human speech can be divided into short, rhythmically-timed elements, similar to syllables within words. Even our cries and laughs, as well as the vocalizations of other species, are periodic. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the tempo of mammalian vocalizations remain unknown. Furthermore, even the core cells that produce vocalizations remain ill-defined. Here we describe rhythmically-timed neonatal mouse vocalizations that occur within single breaths, and identify a brainstem node that is necessary for and sufficient to structure these cries, which we name the intermediate reticular oscillator (iRO). We show that the iRO acts autonomously and sends direct inputs to key muscles and the respiratory rhythm generator in order to coordinate neonatal vocalizations with breathing, as well as paces and patterns these cries. These results reveal that a novel mammalian brainstem oscillator embedded within the conserved breathing circuitry plays a central role in the production of neonatal vocalizations.

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