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Crying Mouse Pups Offer Clues About Human Speech

A pattern that newborn mice use when they cry could also explain why human babies cry at birth

A new study in the journal Neuron suggests that mice have plenty to tell us about how infants learn to speak. The study, led by scientists at the University of California-San Francisco, was an outgrowth of research on the ultrasonic stress calls that baby mice make when they are separated from their mothers. In analyzing the sounds, researchers concluded that the distress calls were not that dissimilar to human speech.

The UC-SF team took this research further and determined that mice are born with a cluster of cells in their brain stem that regulate both breathing and vocalizations. They reasoned that if similar cells exist in the brains of human infants it could help us understand how babies start to develop speech. It might also explain why so many human languages are spoken at the same tempo. "We found that neonatal cries contain one, two, three or more regularly spaced syllables within a single breath," the researchers noted in their study. "Our identification and characterization of the cry premotor node iRO, which produces a fast and autonomous rhythm nested within a slower breathing rhythm, provides a mechanism for this rhythmic cry production."

To read more about this check out the article on NPR.