Future help for humans with speech impairments

By using computers, scientists have discovered the brain activity that precedes vocalization in Seba’s short-tailed bats. This species is important to study since they use a vocal range produced through their larynx to communicate with other bats. What is of interest to scientists is that besides this species of bat, only songbirds and humans use this method.

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Since bats use sonar navigation to maneuver and to find food as well as vocalizations to communicate with other bats, their brain activity is an important clue to help understand human vocalizations.

Julio C. Hechavarria at the Institute for Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Goethe University, investigated brain activity preceding vocalization in Seba’s short-tailed bats and were able to identify a group of nerve cells that create a circuitry from the frontal lobe to the corpus striatum in the interior of the brain. When this neural circuit fires off rhythmic signals, the bat emits a vocalization about half a second later. The researchers were able to predict, based on the rhythmic signals, if the bats were about to utter echolocation or communication vocalizations.

According to Dr. Hechavarria, “. . . we know that the corresponding brain networks are impaired in individuals who, for example, stutter as a result of Parkinson’s disease or emit involuntary noises due to Tourette syndrome. We therefore hope that by continuing to study vocal behavior in bats, we can contribute to a better understanding of these human diseases.”

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