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A brainstem circuit for phonation and volume control in mice

Veerakumar, A;Head, JP;Krasnow, MA;

Mammalian vocalizations are critical for communication and are produced through the process of phonation, in which expiratory muscles force air through the tensed vocal folds of the larynx, which vibrate to produce sound. Despite the importance of phonation, the motor circuits in the brain that control it remain poorly understood. In this study, we identified a subpopulation of ~160 neuropeptide precursor Nts (neurotensin)-expressing neurons in the mouse brainstem nucleus retroambiguus (RAm) that are robustly activated during both neonatal isolation cries and adult social vocalizations. The activity of these neurons is necessary and sufficient for vocalization and bidirectionally controls sound volume. RAm Nts neurons project to all brainstem and spinal cord motor centers involved in phonation and activate laryngeal and expiratory muscles essential for phonation and volume control. Thus, RAm Nts neurons form the core of a brain circuit for making sound and controlling its volume, which are two foundations of vocal communication.