A team of researchers have found that a small group of neurons in the brainstem not only regulates tempo, but also coordinates vocalization with respiration. The research was published in the ‘Neuron Journal’.
“Just for laughs or shouts, the body has to coordinate about 100 different muscles in a rhythmic pattern in one breath,” said Kevin Yackle, MD, PhD, Sandler faculty member and lead author of the study. “We discovered the neurons that when turned on give us this unconscious ability,” he added.
It’s widely believed that many animals, including humans, have innate control over breathing – you don’t have to use your brain to do this. Yackle and his team suspected that the same control exists for innate vocalizations. To confirm the existence of this brain circuit, Yackle and his team studied the sounds made by baby mice when they were separated from their mothers. The babies’ cries had a recognizable pattern associated with specific muscle movements. The researchers then determined which brainstem cells were responsible for this rhythm, which turned out to be a previously unknown circuit that appeared to control breathing and coordinate the muscles needed to produce vocal sounds. Identifying this system will allow scientists to ask new questions about the way we speak and why some people have a hard time doing it. “It may be that when we learn to speak, we learn to bypass this system or directly control it. Altered wiring in this pattern-generating system could cause speech pathologies,” Yackle said. Yackle and his team are intrigued by studies suggesting that early in life, children with autism naturally produce different types of sounds than other children. Some children with autism are unable to speak or have difficulty producing and understanding the tones and rhythms of speech. Such speech pathologies are often seen as an inability to learn to speak, Yackle said. He reverses this perspective, wondering if speech problems are less related to learning than to the brain circuit controlling speech. “A child can hear and learn language, but if the system that allows him to vocalize is different in some way or another, he may just not be able to coordinate breathing and breathing. movements to produce the sounds, ”he said.
“If we know how this system is different, it could change the way we teach certain people to speak,” he added. (ANI)
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