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Every squeak you make

St. Louis, Oct. 31, 2005 -- Scientists have known for decades that female lab mice or their pheromones cause male lab mice to make ultrasonic vocalizations. But a new paper from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis establishes for the first time that the utterances of the male mice are songs.

This finding, to be published Nov. 1 online by the journal Public Library of Science Biology, adds mice to the roster of creatures that croon in the presence of the opposite sex, including songbirds, whales and some insects. (To download samples of mouse song modified to make them audible to humans, go to http://mednews.wustl.edu/news/page/normal/6040.html.)

"In the literature, there's a hierarchy of different definitions for what qualifies as a song, but there are usually two main properties," says lead author Timothy E. Holy, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy. "One is that there should be some syllabic diversity--recognizably distinct categories of sound, instead of just one sound repeated over and over. And there should be some temporal regularity--motifs and themes that recur from time to time, like the melodic hook in a catchy tune."

The new study shows that mouse song has both qualities, although Holy notes that the ability of lab mice to craft motifs and themes isn't quite on a par with that of master songsmiths like birds.

"Perhaps the best analogy for mouse song would be the song of juvenile birds, who put forth what you might call proto-motifs and themes," he explains. "It's not yet clear whether singing conveys an advantage to male mice during courtship, as it appears to do in birds."

Holy and study co-author Zhongsheng Guo, a programmer in his lab, came to be interested in the mice's vocalizations via the Holy lab's studies of the response evoked in the male mouse's brain by female mouse pheromones. Pheromones are che
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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University School of Medicine
31-Oct-2005


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