Aerodynamics and motor control of ultrasonic vocalizations for social communication in mice and rats

Jonas Håkansson, Weili Jiang, Qian Xue, Xudong Zheng, Ming Ding, Anurag A. Agarwal, Coen P.H. Elemans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Background: Rodent ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) are crucial to their social communication and a widely used translational tool for linking gene mutations to behavior. To maximize the causal interpretation of experimental treatments, we need to understand how neural control affects USV production. However, both the aerodynamics of USV production and its neural control remain poorly understood. Results: Here, we test three intralaryngeal whistle mechanisms—the wall and alar edge impingement, and shallow cavity tone—by combining in vitro larynx physiology and individual-based 3D airway reconstructions with fluid dynamics simulations. Our results show that in the mouse and rat larynx, USVs are produced by a glottal jet impinging on the thyroid inner wall. Furthermore, we implemented an empirically based motor control model that predicts motor gesture trajectories of USV call types. Conclusions: Our results identify wall impingement as the aerodynamic mechanism of USV production in rats and mice. Furthermore, our empirically based motor control model shows that both neural and anatomical components contribute to USV production, which suggests that changes in strain specific USVs or USV changes in disease models can result from both altered motor programs and laryngeal geometry. Our work provides a quantitative neuromechanical framework to evaluate the contributions of brain and body in shaping USVs and a first step in linking descending motor control to USV production.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Acoustic communication
  • Bioacoustics
  • Rodents
  • Speech
  • Vocal production


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