A Specialized Neural Circuit Gates Social Vocalizations in the Mouse.
Vocalizations are fundamental to mammalian communication, but the underlying neural circuits await detailed characterization. Here, we used an intersectional genetic method to label and manipulate neurons in the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG) that are transiently active in male mice when they produce ultrasonic courtship vocalizations (USVs). Genetic silencing of PAG-USV neurons rendered males unable to produce USVs and impaired their ability to attract females. Conversely, activating PAG-USV neurons selectively triggered USV production, even in the absence of any female cues. Optogenetic stimulation combined with axonal tracing indicates that PAG-USV neurons gate downstream vocal-patterning circuits. Indeed, activating PAG neurons that innervate the nucleus retroambiguus, but not those innervating the parabrachial nucleus, elicited USVs in both male and female mice. These experiments establish that a dedicated population of PAG neurons gives rise to a descending circuit necessary and sufficient for USV production while also demonstrating the communicative salience of male USVs. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
Tschida, K; Michael, V; Takatoh, J; Han, B-X; Zhao, S; Sakurai, K; Mooney, R; Wang, F
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