Brain Science: The Mouse That Crooned

February 13, 2013

Birds do it. People do it. Now, Duke researchers are convinced that mice, too, can learn how to imitate songs to woo a mate. The surprising conclusion comes from a team of Duke neurobiologists who observed that male mice imitate the ultrasonic squeakings of other males. The researchers identified certain features in a mouse’s brain that are similar to the parts of the brain humans and birds use to learn vocalization, which suggests mice can pick up a tune.

“We are claiming that mice have limited versions of the brain and behavior traits for vocal learning that are found in humans for learning speech and in birds for learning song,” says Duke neurobiologist Erich Jarvis, who oversaw the study. That would overturn the conventional wisdom of biologists for the past sixty years— that mice have no ability for vocal learning. But maybe they just weren’t in the mood.